Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rebuilding Koh Ker: A 3D Reconstruction Restores Context to a Looted Khmer Temple

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Cambodia is quietly negotiating the return of several important 10th century sculptures that were looted from the temple complex of Koh Ker in the 1970s.

Bhima at Norton SimonOfficials from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena recently traveled to Phnom Penh to discuss the fate of its looted Bhima (right). “We have met and had constructive conversations that are continuing,” said Luis Li, an attorney for the museum. Several other museums are also in talks with Cambodia about objects in their collections.

Koh Ker was the source of several iconic Khmer sculptures that were looted in the 1970s and sold to prominent museums and collectors. We’ve previously written about ties between the looters and the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. The most famous of these stolen masterpieces is the Bhima’s companion, Duryodhana, which Sotheby’s attempted to auction in March 2012 on behalf of a Belgian collector. After a lengthy legal fight, Sotheby’s agreed to return the sculpture to Cambodia last December. Months earlier, the Metropolitan Museum agreed to return two Kneeling Attendants looted from the same site. Additional sculptures from the site have been identified at The Cleveland Museum and the Denver Museum of Art. [Complete coverage here.]

This New York Times graphic shows their original locations in the ruined temple of Prasat Chen:

NYT graphic of Koh KerWhile the returns are being negotiated by Cambodian authorities, archaeologists with the French School of Asian Studies (EFEO) have been busy reconstructing the Koh Ker temples with the tools of virtual reality. By sewing together thousands of digital pictures of the sculptures into 3D images, they’ve re-created their original context in the now ruined temples. At EFEO’s website you can watch a remarkable video showing what the site might have looked like soon after its construction by Jayavarman IV.

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One of those behind this work – and some of the original detective work that linked them to the temple – is French archaeologist Eric Bourdonneau. He graduated from the Sorbonne with degrees in Archaeology and Oriental Studies. His 2005 Phd was entitled “Indianization and Formation of the State in South-East Asia: A reappraisal of the Historiography of the last Thirty Years.” He has been a lecturer at the EFEO since 2007.

Here’s my Q and A with Bourdonneau.

Q: How did you become involved in the case involving the Duryodhana at Sotheby’s?

Bourdonneau1As far as I know, the connection between the Prasat Chen and this statue (published in Bunker and Latchford 2004) seems to have been made for the first time by a member of the GACP team (a stone conservation German project) who sent a short letter to Unesco in 2007 (I was informed about this letter quite late in 2011). Personally, I saw the pedestal of the statue during the first archaeological campaign I made in Koh Ker in 2009. I made also the connection with the Norton Simon statue. I identified the latter as a statue of a fighting Bhima … and so concluded that the other pedestal close at hand was for a Duryodhana. But, at that time, I didn’t know of any image of this Duryodhana.

The feet of the disputed statue were left behind when it was taken from the ruins of the Prasat Chen Temple, 80 miles east of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The other feet belong to a statue now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, experts say.

The feet of the Duryodhana and the Norton Simon’s Bhima in situ in Koh Ker.

I saw it for the first time at the end of 2010 when I presented my work to my colleagues of Guimet Museum, Pierre Baptiste and Thierry Zéphir. They showed me a photo of this statue, a photo that was in the Museum Archives but with no information about its origin, its identification or its localization. The next step was just one week before the sale in New York (March 2011). I was informed almost by accident (I was probably the last one to be informed among those concerned by the sale…). Ironically it was a collector that told me that a statue of “Koh Ker style” would be on sale. I prepared straight after a report (with photos, dimensions and iconographical “demonstration”) and sent it to Unesco office in Phnom Penh (where people were wondering about the authenticity and the provenance of this statue) and this report, I was told, was immediately transmitted to Cambodian Ministry of Culture.

I also made several presentations since 2009 and published a quite long article in 2011 where I explained why these statues should be identified with the two images of Bhima and Duryodhana at Prasat Chen and why there was little doubt that the two “Met pieces” (the Pandava brothers), among others, came from the same building.gopura_II

Q: How did you ultimately make the match between the sculpture and its feet?

The abandoned feet at Koh Ker superimposed on the Temple Warrior at the Norton Simon, from a report to UNESCO by researcher Simon Warrack.

The abandoned feet at Koh Ker superimposed on the Temple Warrior at the Norton Simon, from a report to UNESCO by researcher Simon Warrack.

It is not so difficult. The position, the style, the dimensions (e.g. dimensions of the breaks at the ankles, taken in situ) left not much doubt. It is a little more difficult to show that such a statue could come only from Prasat Chen and not from another temple. The iconographic analysis is essential for that.

Q: Have you found any other matches to objects missing from Koh Ker or other Cambodian sites? Where are these objects today? 

1970_17There are indeed a quite significant number of similar cases. The most obvious are those for which where we have photos in the archives: for example, the Ganesha from Prasat Bak or the lion (right) from the Shiva pedestal in Prasat Thom (and today in Dallas Museum). Many of them are now in private collections so it is not easy to know their current location. At least it is possible to know when and where they were sold thanks to sale catalogues published by auction houses.

Q: The Duryodhana and the Met’s Kneeling Attendants have been returned. Others may soon follow. Where will these objects be displayed in Cambodia? What significance does this have for the local people? 

I have no precise information about this. But, of course, they will be exhibited. You better have to ask to Cambodians themselves. Obviously they have many reasons to be proud of their heritage and to celebrate the return of these remarkable pieces. It is important to remind what we are talking about: a deliberate destruction that did not care about the integrity of the artworks, provided that there were people ready to purchase them.

The state of conservation of these artworks in stone was remarkably good as they were still buried when looted. It is maybe not useless to say again, as Elizabeth Becker rightly wrote in NY Times, that the fury of the Khmer Rouge was, sadly, directed much more against people than stones: in Koh Ker, the only traces of vandalism, of which there are many, ­are those left by the modern looters whose spoils fed the art market (some of them can be seen on the knees of the two “MET statues”, cut hastily and coarsely from their pedestals with dozens of blows of a chisel).

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It is hardly understandable how the purchasers of the objects could be “rescuers” working for the protection of heritage, as it has been said. As you know, they actually were those to whom the damaged statues were destined and the unique raison d’être of this vandalism. For this same reason, they are certainly not working for a better “understanding of Khmer culture.”

The so-called Sotheby’s or MET statues, like many of their kind extracted from their original surroundings, have remained impossible to understand as long as we have not been able to replace them in the temples where they were erected, that is, as long as we have not restored what was destroyed forty or thirty years ago by the looters.

What is at stake here is not only “heritage” but history.

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UPDATED: The Met Returns Two Khmer Statues to Cambodia, Citing Clear Evidence Of Looting

DP212330-1UPDATE: The New York Times reported May 15 that Cambodia is also planning to ask for the return of a statue of Hanuman at the Cleveland Museum of Art. This is in addition to the Norton Simon Bhima and the Denver Rama we’ve written about previously, which Cambodian officials also want returned. All are said to have been taken from the same temple complex at Koh Ker. Neither Cleveland nor Denver would disclose the origins or collecting histories of the contested statues.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to return two ancient Khmer statues to Cambodia after reviewing clear evidence that they were looted. Here’s Jason’s story in Friday’s LA Times:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to return two ancient statues to Cambodia after receiving convincing evidence they had been looted and smuggled out of the country illegally.

The 10th century Khmer statues, known as the Kneeling Attendants, have flanked the entrance to the Met’s South East Asian galleries for years and are among the museum’s most prized objects from the region.

They were acquired in fragments between 1987 and 1992 as donations primarily from Douglas Latchford, a British collector based in Bangkok who is at the center of a federal investigation of antiquities looted from the ancient temple complex of Koh Ker.

Cambodian officials announced last June that they would seek the return of the statues. At the time, Met officials said they had no information to indicate the statues were stolen.

On Friday, the Met would not release details on what information led it to decide to return the statues, but noted recent press reports and information provided by UNESCO officials, who have been investigating looting in Cambodia.

“All I can say is that sufficient evidence came to light,” said museum spokesman Harold Holzer. “It was dispositive and more than satisfied the director.”

The returns suggest Cambodia has found substantial evidence to support its claim that several American museums possess looted antiquities that were illegally exported by Bangkok-based dealer Douglas Latchford. Latchford has denied the claim.

We’ve previously identified several other museums that acquired Khmer antiquities from Latchford: The Norton Simon Museum, the Kimbell Museum, the Denver Art Museum and the Berlin Museums. The Met continues to possess several other antiquities tied to Latchford that will not be returned in the deal announced Friday.

The Met’s returns will also have an impact on the on-going lawsuit in which the US government is seeking the return of a Khmer warrior statue at Sotheby’s. See here for our complete coverage of the case , including court documents that detail the government’s evidence.

Latchford’s Footprints: Suspect Khmer Art at the Kimbell and the Met

We’re continuing to trace suspect Cambodian antiquities linked to Douglas Latchford, the man at the center of the on-going federal looting probe that we’ve detailed in previous posts here. Last week we wrote about suspect Khmer antiquities at the Denver Art Museum. Here are our latest finds:

The Kimbell Art Museum

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In 1988, the Kimbell Art Museum purchased an important 7th century Khmer sculpture from Latchford.

At the time of purchase, the statue had no documented ownership history. The only record the Kimbell obtained about its origins was a signed guarantee from Latchford claiming the statue had been in his possession in Thailand since 1968 and had legally been shipped to the UK in 1987, a museum spokeswoman said.

Latchford has made similar claims about contested Khmer statues at Sotheby’s and the Norton Simon Museum that are now the focus on a federal lawsuit. Federal investigators have alleged in court filings that Latchford purchased those statues after they were looted in the early 1970s and smuggled to Thailand, a claim Latchford denies. (See our previous coverage of the case here.)

The statue represents Harihara, a Hindu deity that combined the destructive force of Shiva and the creative power of Vishnu. The statue’s style suggests the piece came from the pre-Angkor ruins of Prasat Andet, in central Cambodia. The Kimbell has no evidence of legal export from Cambodian, a museum spokeswoman confirmed.

Cult Statue of a Goddess (Aphrodite)Acquiring an object based exclusively on a dealer’s warranty — rather than an actual documented ownership history that proves it was not looted — was a common tactic in the 1980s, particularly for pieces that were likely looted. As we described in Chasing Aphrodite, the J. Paul Getty Museum passed a new acquisition policy for antiquities in 1987 that called for a dealer warranty in place of an inquiry into an object’s origins. The practice allowed the Getty to continue acquiring objects it knew or suspected had been looted – including an $18 million statue of Aphrodite – while providing a modicum of legal and public relations cover if the statue were later questioned. But the policy failed: The Getty returned the Aphrodite to Italy in 2010 after our investigation in the LA Times made clear the dealer warranty was a thin cover for the truth — the statue had been looted from an archaeological site in central Sicily.

Kimbell1The Kimbell believes the Harihara is the only object in its collection with ties to Latchford, but can’t be certain, a museum spokeswoman said. It is not the only suspect piece of ancient art to surface at the museum. In February, we wrote about the Kimbell’s 5th century BC Greek cup by the Douris painter. After we noted the cup’s ownership history had been traced to Elie Borowski, a dealer who has been linked to the illicit trade in Classical antiquities, the Kimbell announced it would publish the cup on a registry of objects maintained by the Association of Art Museum Directors. The cup was never listed in the registry — likely because it was acquired prior to 2008, when the directors group began requiring suspect antiquities to be posted. (This leaves the question: where should suspect antiquities acquired before 2008 be posted publicly to encourage further provenance research? Museums should be publishing the complete known provenance of all their antiquities, but don’t. We’ve proposed our own answer.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

met.hariharaWhile researching the Kimbell’s Harihara, we noticed that The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased a similar Harihara, also linked to Prasat Andet, in 1977. We’ve asked the Met for the provenance of the statue, as none is listed on their website.

The Met also has several pieces from Latchford. The New York Times has previously noted that Cambodia will ask the museum to return its two prominently displayed Standing Attendants, which also came through Latchford from Koh Ker. As Paul Barford has noted, the knees of those statues bear clear signs of having been hacked from a base by looters. (The Met’s high resolution photos and zoom tool are quite useful here.) Screen Shot 2012-12-23 at 10.50.29 PM

David Gill has also noted that the statues came to the museum in fragments from different sources acquired over several years and were reassembled at the Met. Martin Lerner, the Met’s former Asian Art curator, noted the happy coincidence in the catalog: “It is particularly gratifying that the monumental bodies join up with heads already in the collection.” This appears similar to a pattern we’ve seen in objects passed through smuggling networks that dealt in Classical antiquities, the so-called “fragments game” identified by Italian investigators and noted by Gill here.

Gill has also helpfully identified several other Latchford donations at the Met:

1983_551_232391-1A 10th century Khmer Head of Buddha acquired in 1983 as a gift from Latchford. (1983.551)

A 12th century Bodhisattva from Nepal acquired in 1989 as a gift from Spink & Son Ltd. and Douglas A. J. Latchford.  (1989.237.1)

A bronze 9th century Bodhisattva Maitreya from Thailand acquired in 1989 as a gift from Spink & Son Ltd. and Douglas A. J. Latchford. (1989.237.2)

A 2nd century Ghandaran plaque from Pakistan acquired as  gift of Spink & Son Ltd. and Douglas A. J. Latchford in 1989. (1989.237.3)

DT5214The gifts suggest several things: Latchford was a generous donor to the Met over several years, and dealt not just in Khmer art but also material from South Asia. It would be worth perusing the Met’s 1994 catalog of Asian Art for other examples of material from South East Asia. For example, given the history of looting at Koh Ker, we were interested in how this gilt bronze statue of a king from Kor Ker (left) ended up in the collection Walter Annenberg before being acquired by the Met in 1988.

We’ll continue looking for Latchford objects in other museums. If you’ve got any tips, drop us at line at ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com

Douglas Latchford’s Footprints: Suspect Khmer Antiquities At the Denver Art Museum

13COLLECTOR-popupWho is Douglas A. J. Latchford?

That is the question many are asking since the Bangkok-based British collector who describes himself as an “adventurer-scholar” emerged at the center of the legal fight over an allegedly looted 10th Century Khmer warrior now at Sotheby’s.

Federal prosecutors have said in recent court filings that Latchford knowingly purchased the Sotheby’s statue and its companion at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena from “an organized looting network” that stole the objects from the ruins of the Koh Ker temple complex deep in Cambodia’s northern jungles. Latchford allegedly conspired with the London auction house Spink to obtain false export permits for the statues, which were transported it to London in the early 1970s, the filings claim.

[Our previous coverage of the Sotheby's case can be found here.]

DP212330-1As the New York Times reported in June, Latchford is also listed as the donor of record for two prominent Khmer pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Cambodia wants back. All four of the statues are believed to have been looted from the ancient temple complex of Prasat Chen and smuggled out of Cambodia sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Latchford denies the allegations. In an interview this month, he told the New York Times that prosecutors were “weaving together suppositions.” “This is somebody’s imagination working overtime,” he said in an interview at his Bangkok home with reporter Tom Mashberg. He claims that the London auction house Spink at times used his name for purchases of objects he never owned. Spink claims it has no longer has records from those years.

At the same time, Latchford suggested he had a transcendental claim to Khmer art: Buddhist priests once told him he was Khmer in a previous life, “and that what I collect had once belonged to me,” he told the Times. Asked about his early collecting,

Mr. Latchford spins tales of bumping his Jeep along makeshift roads in the jungles of Thailand and Cambodia, exploring vine-entangled temples and the shattered outposts from a 1,000-year-old fallen empire.

He and other well-known collectors, he said, would buy and trade what became available without fretting over the provenance details that govern modern antiquities transactions. They were rescuers, not plunderers, he said, pointing out that he and others have restored, protected, cataloged and donated artifacts that might have been broken into pieces or lost or neglected.

The feet of two ancient sandstone statues were left behind by looters at a temple in Koh Ker, Cambodia. One statue is now at Sotheby's, the other at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

The feet of two ancient sandstone statues were left behind by looters at a temple in Koh Ker, Cambodia. One statue is now at Sotheby’s, the other at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

The final statement is ironic, as federal prosecutors suggest the statue at Sotheby’s was purposefully broken by looters to make it easier to smuggle, a claim supported by Sotheby’s own analysis of the statue’s surface. Indeed, both statues’ feet remain in place at Koh Ker.

Latchford gave another revealing answer in a 2010 interview with the Bangkok Post when asked where a piece in his considerable private collection had come from:

“The ground,” he answered. “Most of the pieces I have come across in the past years have been excavated, or dug up. You know, there is a farmer in the field who digs something up, and he probably thinks if I take it to Bangkok or Singapore or a middle man I can get $100 instead of getting $10.”

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Latchford has close ties to Emma Bunker, the Khmer art expert hired by Sotheby’s to help with the sale of the contested Khmer statue. In emails to Sotheby’s, Bunker stated that the statue was “definitely stolen,” and said her “culture spies” could help Sotheby’s navigate Cambodia’s cultural heritage bureaucracy. Latchford and Bunker have co-authored several books on Khmer art, including Adoration and Glory, which boasts that “the authors were able to gain access to private as well as public collections worldwide to give unparalleled access to more than 150 objects,” many of which are published there for the first time.

bookComplicating matters, Latchford, now 81, has become a prominent donor to Cambodian museums of both antiquities and money. Emails from the Sotheby’s case make clear his generosity has earned him close ties to cultural officials in the Cambodian government, including to Hab Touch, who is today pressing Cambodia’s repatriation claims but in the past has praised Latchford’s scholarship.

Given this history, we’ve started to scratch around to see where else objects tied to Latchford have ended up. Here’s the first of those reports.

DENVER ART MUSEUM

The Denver Museum has six objects in its permanent collection acquired from Latchford, four of them acquired as gifts. Here are details provided by the museum:

1. Painted Vessel from Thailand, 400-200 BCE. Earthenware and paint
Gift of Douglas A.J. Latchford. Accession #2000.67 No additional provenance available.

2. Goddess of Transcendent Wisdom, Prajnaparamita Cambodia, Angkor period, late 1100s–early 1200s sandstone, 59 inches (130 cm) high. Purchased from Latchford “in honor of Emma C. Bunker.” Accession #2000.198

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The museum’s website suggests the piece could be from the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom: “The gentle smile and lowered eyes are features associated with sculptures from the Bayon temple built by Jayavarman VII, the last great ruler of the Angkor royal line.”

The museum said the piece was originally purchased by “Ian Donaldson” in Vietnam around 1964-66; then shipped from Thailand to the UK on February 12, 1994 and imported from the UK on March 10, 1994. It is worth noting that Adoration and Glory contains a very similar statue listed as being in a private collection.

surya3. Sun God (Surya) from Cambodia or Vietnam. 600′s to 700′s, Pre-Angkor period, sandstone. Purchased from Latchford in 2004. Accession #2004.371. Published in “Adoration and Glory.” No other provenance information was provided.

4.  Sleep of Vishnu and the Birth of Brahma, Cambodia, 700′s, Pre-Angkor period. Sandstone. Gift of Douglas A. J. Latchford. Accession #2005.104. The piece was published in “Adoration and Glory” and listed as being held in an “American Collection” on page 84. No other provenance information was provided.

5. Bronze Bell, Cambodia, 1st Century BCE, Iron Age. Gift of Douglas A.J. Latchford. Accession #2005.105. No provenance or publication history provided.

6. Wood Cabinet with Chinese Motifs, 1700′s Thailand. Gift of Douglas A. J. Latchford & Emma C. Bunker. Accession #2006.81. No provenance or publication history provided.

rama_1986_44Among the museum’s Khmer objects not included in the list are other objects from Koh Ker, such as this statue of Rama, whose ownership history is not listed.

In short, in recent years the Denver Art Museum has acquired several Cambodian antiquities with little or no documented ownership history — much less evidence of legal exportation — from a man now at the center of a federal looting probe. For several of those objects, the only documented history was a book written by Latchford himself. The museum’s position is further complicated by the fact that Emma Bunker is listed as research consultant for the museum, suggesting a possible conflict of interest. All of these are serious red flags.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the museum said, “The Denver Art Museum curatorial team conducts provenance research on an ongoing basis and posts results online as they become available both on the museum’s website and on the AAMD object registry. The Museum adheres to AAMD guidelines for the acquisition of archeological materials and ancient art set forth in 2008. In coming into full compliance with AAMD guidelines for antiquities and archeological material, the Denver Art Museum now requires all available provenance information to be provided for new acquisitions.”

The statement suggests a deep misunderstanding of modern acquisition ethics. The moral obligation on museums to obtain clear provenance — concrete evidence that an antiquity had not been recently looted — did not begin in 2008, after the wave of museum scandals we wrote about in Chasing Aphrodite, but in 1970 with the passage of the UNESCO convention. Further, the museum’s postings on the AAMD Object Registry suggest that South East Asian antiquities are not the only problematic collecting area for the Denver museum: it has acquired nine pre-Colombian objects since 2008 that do not have provenance pre-dating 1970.

We’ll follow-up on these matters with Denver, which has still not provided a list of Latchford objects that were lent to the museum.

Meanwhile, if you know of other Latchford material in public or private collections, drop us a line confidentially at chasingaphrodite@gmail.com

UPDATED: Kapoor’s Footprints: 240 Objects from Alleged Antiquities Trafficker Traced to Museums Around the Globe

[UPDATED 8/27 with details from SF Asian.]

We’ve begun hearing back from museums that did business with Subhash Kapoor, the New York antiquities dealer under arrest in India for trafficking in looted antiquities.

For those just catching up with the Kapoor story: The dealer, an American citizen of Indian extraction, has operated Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue since 1974. He was arrested in Germany last year and was recently extradicted to India, where he is alleged to have been the mastermind behind a network of temple looters operating in Tamil Nadu.

Authorities there have also accused Kapoor of trafficking in looted antiquities from other parts of India, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Federal authorities in the United States have also issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor and seized more than $30 million worth of allegedly stolen antiquities from Kapoor’s Manhattan storage facilities in recent months.

Kapoor has done business with leading museums around the world. Indian authorities have said that Kapoor worked with his brother Ramesh Kapoor, who runs Kapoor Galleries in New York. Kapoor Galleries was not raided by federal authorities, and to our knowledge Remesh has not been charged with a crime.

Here are the 236 Kapoor objects we and others have tracked down so far:

LACMA 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired 62 objects from Kapoor. Twenty-eight were purchased from Kapoor or his Manhattan gallery Art of the Past between 1989 and 2007. Another 33 were donated by Kapoor between 1978 and 2000. We’ve posted the complete list here.

Twenty-nine of the objects are ancient. All but 8 of them belong to a single hoard of ancient figurines from Madhya Pradesh, in central India.

Two other antiquities are terracotta pieces from the 3rd and 2nd Century BC from Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh. A third is a copper sculture of Mayadevi from Uttar Pradesh, circa 100 AD.

Elephant with Riders, 3rd-2nd century B.C.

Another 18 objects at LACMA were acquired from Kapoor’s brother Ramesh, who Indian authorities say worked with his brother Subhash to import looted antiquities illegally removed from India.

LACMA acknowledges it has no documented ownership history for any of the ancient objects. “We’re re-examining all these items in the light of the recent news,” said museum spokeswoman Miranda Carroll.

BOSTON MFA

The Boston MFA has just one object fr0m Kapoor – a page from a 17th century illustrated manuscript, The Jealous Older Woman and the More Impetuous Younger Woman. It was  purchased in 1995 from Art of the Past. Kapoor bought it at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1994, and was privately owned prior to being sold at auction, museum records show. The MFA also purchased two 17th century works from Kapoor Gallery.

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

The Art Institute has two objects purchase from Kapoor.  “We are in the process of confirming the provenance information and will take appropriate steps when we have completed this review,” said museum spokeswoman Erin Hogan. We’ve requested information about the objects — the museum’s online collection database does not allow for searching by provenance.

ASIAN ART MUSEUM of SAN FRANCISCO

Museum spokesman Tim Hallman said, “We have not been contacted by any officials investigating Mr. Kapoor’s dealings. However, when news broke of the investigation, the museum’s director instructed our chief curator to review the collection records to determine if we obtained items from Mr. Kapoor. We are still reviewing the files (our holdings include more than 18,000 artworks).” We’ll post the list of objects when we get it.

UPDATE: Hallman got back to us with details. The Asian Art Museum acquired four objects from Kapoor, including a 14th century statue of the Hindu deity Shiva in the fierce form of Bhairava (above), said to be from Karnataka, the Indian state west of Tamil Nadu where Kapoor is being held for trial. The Asian purchased the statue from Kapoor in 2000. “We have have carefully reviewed our records for each object and have not found any information to suggest that that any of these four art objects were acquired or imported illegally,” Hallman said in an email. The complete list of Kapoor objects at the SF Asian can be found here.

TOLEDO MUSEUM

The Toledo Museum continues to ignore our requests for information about objects they acquired from Kapoor and several other dealers tied to the illicit trade. The New York Times reported that Toledo acquired 44 terracotta antiquities from Kapoor in 2007. The museum’s website appears to offer  information about just one of those objects. It is hard to fathom how a museum whose considerable assets are exempt from taxes because they operate “in the public interest” can refuse to answer the public’s questions about objects in its collection. Only Princeton University Art Museum has shown a similar disdain for the public’s right to know.

THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

As we reported last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired 81 objects from Kapoor, four of which are antiquities that have no documented ownership history. For reasons that remain unclear, the museum also knowingly acquired five forgeries from Kapoor in 1991 for the museum’s study collection. Many of the Met’s other Kapoor objects are drawings from the 17th, 18th or 19th century highlighted in the museum’s 2009 exhibit, Living Line: Selected Indian Drawings From the Subhash Kapoor Gift.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, AUSTRALIA

The NGA has acknowledged buying 21 objects from Kapoor, including a bronze Dancing Shiva said to be tied to the Kapoor investigation. That news has set off a wave of press reports in Australia about the case. The museum claims to have followed a “thorough due diligence process” and contacted Indian authorities this week to offer its cooperation in the investigation.

UPDATE: The museum released a statement saying, “The Gallery has commenced plans to undertake a comprehensive re-examination by a panel of internal and external art experts of the supplied documentation as well as the provenance of work acquired from Mr Kapoor, as many international Galleries are also doing. The Gallery is liaising closely with the Indian High Commission in Canberra to ensure that the internationally accepted protocols for dealing with such issues are followed.” The NGA has not yet released details about the provenance of the Shiva or other Kapoor objects.

SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS

The Freer and Sackler Galleries told the New York Times that the only object they had acquired from Kapoor was a 20th century Indian necklace.

UPDATE: David Gill notes The Sackler has issued a statement saying it is investigating several objects purchase from Kapoor Galleries, controlled by Subhash Kapoor’s brother. The objects include a marble bracket figure, India, 13th c. (purchased in 1995); a seated figure of Jambala, Tibet, bronze, 13th c. (purchased in 1996); a Gautama Buddha, Tibet, gilt copper, 14th c. (purchased 1997); and a pair of lamps of fortune, India, bronze, 17th c. (purchased in 2000). The statement notes that The Freer|Sackler “were among the first U.S. museums to adopt the UNESCO convention of 1970, which forbids the acquisition or display of works illegally removed from their nation of origin after 1970.”

Art Gallery of New South Wales

The Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased six objects from Kapoor, Australian media reported. Former Getty Museum director Michael Brand, who took the helm of the Australian museum in June, said, “No-one has made any suggestions that the works in our collection or stolen or that there are any issues about those works. Should someone come to us and say that there is reason to believe then we would obviously collaborate in any way we can.” Among the objects at the museum are this one, highlighted by David Gill.

WANTED IDOLS

The website of website of the Tamil Nadu police has additional information about the Kapoor investigation, along with photos of missing idols. Where are these idols now? The NGA’s Shiva appears superficially similar to one of the Dancing Shiva’s shown there.

Kapoor’s Alleged Accomplices: Indian authorities are looking for two of Kapoor’s alleged accomplices, The Times of India reports. [A QUOTE FROM THE ARTICLE HAS BEEN REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING NEIL PERRY-SMITH.] Paul Barford does some digging into the alleged accomplices are finds some intriguing clues. [UPDATE: BARFORD'S POST HAS BEEN REMOVED.]

Have you tracked down other Kapoor antiquities? If so, send us the details and we’ll credit you with the find: chasingaphrodite@gmail.com

Kapoor Case: Investigation into Stolen Indian Idols Will Test Museum Transparency

Subhash Kapoor

The investigation of antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, which made international headlines this week when federal agents raided his Manhattan warehouse, promises to shine a bright light on the illicit trade in antiquities smuggled out of India and other South Asian countries — and the dealer’s ties to prominent museums around the world.

New York authorities issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor, the longtime owner of Madison Avenue gallery Art of the Past, the same day that agents with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement seized what they said were $20 million worth of stolen Indian artifacts from his Manhattan storage facilities. The seized objects include three Chola period statues that investigators say match objects in Interpol’s database of stolen works of art. Some objects were imported into the U.S. labelled “Marble Garden Table Sets.” An additional $10 million in antiquities were quietly seized from Kapoor in January of this year.

The seized objects are likely the tip of the iceberg of the dealer’s inventory. Since 1974, Kapoor has traded in ancient art from India, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world, as well as more recent art from India. A sample of his recent inventory can been seen in this 2011 catalog for Art of the Past.

Kapoor’s legal troubles extend far beyond New York. He was detained in Germany in October 2011 and this month extradited to Chennai, India, where he is facing criminal charges of being the mastermind of an idol smuggling ring that plundered ancient temples in Tamil Nadu. Kapoor has reportedly admitted to Indian police that he earned more than $11 million through the transport and sale of plundered Indian antiquities with his daughter and brother through a US corporation called Nimbus International.

Kapoor’s New York attorney Christopher Kane did not return a call to his cell phone on Sunday, but told the New York Post that Kapoor ““thinks of himself as a legitimate businessman, and I have no reason to think he’s not.” We’ll post any response we receive here.

As Kapoor’s legal case plays out in India, the spotlight now turns to the dozens of museums and collectors who did business with the dealer. Kapoor boasts in his bio that he has sold antiquities to a long list of leading museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco; The Art Institute, Chicago; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Musée des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris; Museum fűr Indische Kunst, Berlin; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; and the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

Investigators have tied a Dancing Shiva at Australia’s National Gallery to Kapoor, the New York Post reported.

In a press release, American investigators asked Kapoor’s clients to check their collections and be in touch. “Some of the artifacts seized during this investigation — which are stolen — have been displayed in major international museums worldwide,” ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations team said in a press release. “Other pieces that match those listed as stolen are still openly on display in some museums. HSI will aggressively pursue the illicit pieces not yet recovered.”

The press, however, is not waiting for museums to come clean. The New York Times queried several museums last week about Kapoor objects in their collections. And on Saturday, The New York Post reported that a statue of Shiva as the Lord of Dance at the National Gallery of Australia has been tied to the investigation.

Not all museums that did business with Kapoor will be in trouble, of course. The Freer-Sackler Gallery, for example, told the New York Times that the only object they had acquired from Kapoor was a 20th century Indian necklace. The two objects in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’s online catalog linked to Kapoor Galleries, operated by Kapoor’s brother Ramesh, are 17th century Indian paintings.

The Met’s response to the Kapoor investigation has been rather cavalier. Despite the admonition from the federal authorities, the museum will not review its Kapoor antiquities, Holzer told the Times, noting that the collection had long been posted on the Met’s website. One might think that recent history would have taught Met officials time and again that open possession of allegedly stolen property is no protection from claims both legal and moral.

The Met tried to deflect the questions from the press, telling the NY Times that most of the 81 pieces they had acquired from Kapoor were drawings from the 17th, 18th or 19th century highlighted in the 2009 Met exhibit, Living Line: Selected Indian Drawings From the Subhash Kapoor Gift. “They do not appear to be the type of items that they are worried about,” said museum spokesman Harold Holzer.

But a search of the Met’s online catalog reveals several antiquities from Kapoor that authorities likely will be interested in — none have documented ownership histories dating to 1972, when India began controlling exports of ancient art.

1st Century BC ceramic Bengal pot (2003 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

1st Century BC Bengal Vessel (2001 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

The God Revanta Returning from a Hunt (2003 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

Yakshi Holding a Crowned Child (2002 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

Curiously, the Met also has five stone sculptures from Kapoor in its study collection, here and here, for example. They resemble ancient pieces but are labeled by the museum as “20th Century.” All were acquired in 1991. Did the museum acquire these objects from Kapoor, only to discover they were modern forgeries? We’ve asked Holzer for more information.

UPDATE: Harold Holzer tells us, “The group of 20th-century forgeries was accepted as a gift along with the other Kapoor gifts for our study collection, and always identified as such.”

To be fair to the Met, their online collection is far more transparent than that of several other American museums tied to Kapoor. The Toledo Museum of Art told the NY Times that it had received a gift of 44 terracotta antiquities from Kapoor in 2007. The only object that appears in a search of the museum’s online collection is a terracotta vessel purchased in 2008. The museum published the object in 2009 in a book of the museum’s masterworks, but offers no ownership history other than saying it was created in Chandraketugarh, an archaeological site north-east of Kolkata. Where was it before Toledo? What are the ownership histories for the other 43 objects acquired from Kapoor?

We’ve asked the Toledo Museum for that information, but apparently such requests are a low priority there. More than a month ago, we requested information about objects in their collection tied to two other dealers who investigators have connected to the illicit trade — Edoardo Almagia and Gianfranco Becchina. We have still not received a response.

Several years ago, the Getty Museum took a similar stance when faced with questions about objects in their collection. Stonewalling only convinced the public of the museum’s bad faith, and fueled the zeal of investigations by foreign governments and the media. Museums would be smart to heed those lessons from the Getty case, lest they relive the consequences.

Like the Almagia investigation, the Kapoor case will be a test for how transparent American museums can be in the face of unpleasant questions about ancient art in their collections. Will they take a proactive approach to investigating their collections, as they have done with objects with unclear provenance from World War II era? Or will they stonewall and encourage others to do the investigation for them?

Hat-Tips: Several people have been covering the Kapoor case for months, and you should read their detailed coverage. The Indian press, especially the Times of India, has been covering the case for months. Damien Huffer, whose excellent blog It Surfaced Down Under tracks the illicit antiquities trade in the Southern Hemisphere, was one of the first to pick up the story, a distinction that earned him repeated legal threats. Paul Barford’s blog has also diligently tracked reports on the case, adding his salty commentary along the way. Most recently, The New York Post broke the news of the Manhattan raids last week and has followed-up with some additional scoops.

UPDATE: Attorney Rick St. Hiliare has some very interesting thoughts on what the Kapoor case reveals about antiquities smuggling networks: “Examining the import and export methods surrounding the Kapoor case not only can aid police in the United States and India in their current investigations targeting the alleged idol thief, but it can help policymakers, criminologists, and scholars think about better ways to detect, uncover, interdict, and prosecute future crimes of heritage trafficking.” Hilaire also offers excellent analysis of the bills of lading allegedly used by Kapoor’s enterprises, revealing how these objects were able to enter the U.S. under false premises. He goes on to say the case might give a boost to our WikiLoot project, which is designed to suss out these very matters. Worth reading his entire post.

Castor and Pollux, Forgeries and Loot: Reflections on the Arnold Peter Weiss Case

original art by Elli Crocker (http://www.ellicrocker.com)

Looting and forgery are the Castor and Pollux of the antiquities trade, bound together by a love of murky origins.

That appears to be the lesson of the guilty plea earlier this month by coin dealer Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, which came with a twist – the “looted” coins he was hawking at the Waldor Astoria were actually forgeries.

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

But why would Weiss brag so openly – to both a confidential informant and an undercover agent posing as a buyer, according to the complaint – that the ancient coins he was trying to sell had been recently looted in Sicily? Wouldn’t that fact lower the value of the coins and made them harder to sell?

And how could the three coins – which were proved forgeries by a scanning electron microscope only after being found authentic by several experts – fool so many, including Weiss and his Nomos partners and Herbert Kreindler, Weiss’ reported source for the coins? Who was duped, and who was complicit in the fraud?

The answers may come out as the on-going investigation unfolds in the coming months. But the case of another famous fraud, the Getty Kouros, offers some interesting hints.

The outlines of the Kouros story are well known: In 1985, the Getty paid $9.5 million for a 7-foot-tall Greek marble youth with a thoroughly detailed ownership history, amid speculation that the piece was a modern forgery. There are only a dozen such intact kouroi, making the Getty’s a truly remarkable find. The question of its authenticity has been hotly debated ever since. Today most are convinced the statue is a fake, though it remains on display at the Getty Villa, labeled “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery.”

In the opening chapter of his bestselling Blink, Malcolm Gladwell suggests Getty officials were blinded by bad science in their decision to buy the statue. In Chasing Aphrodite we revealed that science was the public reason to justify the purchase, and the one given to the Getty board. But behind the scenes, museum officials concluded the Kouros was authentic because they heard from the dealer that it had been recently looted in Sicily.

As we write in Chapter 4:

Speaking in confidence, [Sicilian dealer Gianfranco] Becchina had cautioned [Met curator Dietrich] von Bothmer to ignore the cover story about the statue coming from Greece or being in the family of a Swiss doctor. He suggested instead that the statue had been found recently in Sicily, an origin that would explain many of the stylistic anomlies that had initially troubled him. It also suggested that the piece was freshly excavated and, by extension, authentic. The statue’s suspiciously voluminous ownership history must have been forged to cover the kouros’s illicit origins. Bolstered by the new information pointing to authenticity, [Getty director John] Walsh once again recommended the purchase of the kouros.”

This illustrates the first lure of loot: In a market rife with forgeries, evidence of looting is the ultimate badge of authenticity.

It is worth noting that one of the Weiss coins in question was a silver decadrachms of Akragas. Before being confiscated by authorities, it was given a record-setting estimate of $2.5 million because it was one of only 12 known such coins. That happens to be precisely as rare as an intact Kouros. When trying to explain the appearance of a rare masterpiece out of thin air, looting is the most palpable answer. The only other is forgery.

The second lure of looting is the uncanny appeal that “fresh” antiquities have long had for collectors and museums. Few have explained this better than Bruce McNall — who coincidentally used to employ Weiss’ Nomos business partner Eric McFadden.

McNall proved prescient in our January interview  about the Weiss case:

“[As a collector in the 1980s,] any time you find something brand new, it’s sexier,” he said. “Otherwise it’s been around, it’s been seen, and maybe there’s a reason someone else hasn’t bought it…Nobody wants some old broad that’s been around on the town for too long.”

Ironically, McNall thinks that may explain the case of Arnold Peter Weiss, who was allegedly recorded by a confidential informant bragging that he knew the 4th century BC silver tetradrachm from Katane he was selling was “a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago” in Italy. Such talk is common in the coin trade, said McNall, but “90% of the time it’s just a sales tool.” McNall also finds to be credible the rumor circulating in the coin world that one or more of the coins Weiss was offering for sale may have been fakes.

Perhaps another lesson from the Weiss case, then, is that in the world of ancient coins, these two lures of loot appear to be as strong today as they were in 1985.

You can find all our coverage of the Weiss case here.

The Harvard List: Turkey wants Dumbarton Oaks to Return the Sion Treasure

Among the dozens of objects that the government of Turkey is asking American museums to return are 40 Byzantine relics at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Museum.

(We’ve previously reported on Turkey’s requests in the LA Times and detailed the objects being sought from the Met, the Getty, and the Cleveland.)

The silver and gold liturgical objects known as the Sion Treasure consist of plates, candlesticks, crosses and plaques. Some 40 pieces of the treasure are at Dumbarton Oaks, while another 10 or so are at the Antalya Museum in Turkey, with a few more said to be in private collections.

There does not appear to be much doubt that the treasure was looted and smuggled out of Turkey in 1963 — decades after the nation’s patrimony law made such acts illegal. Dumbarton Oaks’ own publication of the Sion Treasure suggests as much repeatedly.

In 1986, Dumbarton Oaks organized a symposium about the treasure at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which resulted in a 1992 book, “Ecclesiastical silver plate in 6th Century Byzantium,” edited by the museum’s Byzantium curator Susan A. Boyd. That publication includes this photograph of the looter’s hole where the treasure is believed to have been found.

The treasure’s precise findspot is later detailed at length: “Late in the summer of 1963, the Sion Treasure was found in the field called Buyuk Asar (big ruin) north of the hamlet Haciveliler (2km west of Kumluca, a modern town in southeastern Lycia,)” wrote German Byzantinist Hansgerd Hellenkemper. A marking on a nearby wall identified it as the ancient Lycian polis of Korydalla. The treasure was found some 30 meters from the ruins of an early Byzantine church, Hellenkemper added, suggesting it may have been buried by church leaders in the 7th Century to hide it from invading Arabs. She goes on to note that illegal excavations have made it difficult to know more about such treasures. “In the Eastern Mediterranean, a large number of Early Byzantine church treasures have been found, but an exact of nearly exact findspot is known for very few of them.”

Dumbarton Oaks’ acquisition history says the treasure was purchased in 1963 in Switzerland from the antiquities dealer George Zakos by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, a private collector who donated it to the museum the same year. Zakos has been repeatedly tied to the illicit antiquities trade — among other things as a major supplier to Robert Hecht and the source of the Metropolitan Museum’s looted Lydian Hoard, which was returned to Turkey in 1993 after a bitter six-year legal battle.

Turkey has been seeking to reunite the Dumbarton Oaks material with the rest of the Sion Treasure for decades. Nizeh Firatli of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum first noted the missing treasure at a 1964 meeting in Athens, and soon after Turkey first requested that Dumbarton Oaks return the treasure. Several subsequent requests have been sent over the ensuing years, and Turkey’s request was recently revived.

Dumbarton Oaks director Jan Ziolkowski

Dumbarton Oaks did not respond to repeated requests for comments on Turkey’s request — a curious position for an institution that serves as a research library. We eventually contacted Harvard University’s press office, which released the following statement on behalf of director Jan M. Ziolkowski: “Dumbarton Oaks has made the Sion Treasure available for exhibition, research and study for nearly a half-century. We are confident that we have proper title to these antiquities and, while representatives from Turkey have inquired about them on occasion over the years, they haven’t responded to requests for any documentation that might raise questions about the provenance of this important part of the collection.”

We asked both Ziolkowski and Harvard for additional information about why they believe the museum has proper legal title to the treasure. Given the suspect source of the treasure and Dumbarton Oaks’ own publication of details of its looting in 1963, what further “documentation” is Harvard waiting for? So far, our follow-up questions have been met with silence.

Chasing Aphrodite at Google: Jason Felch on the Illicit Antiquities Trade and WikiLoot

Google's pet T-Rex, Stan, is on the prowl at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.

On February 10th, Jason visited the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA to talk about Chasing Aphrodite and to solicit help with a new initiative, WikiLoot.

The talk was part of the Authors@Google program, and was organized by Jason’s old friend Steve Meaney, who works in marketing there. (Thanks, Steve!) Also attending were several people from the archaeology department at nearby Stanford University.

The hour-long talk gives an overview of the role of the Getty Museum and other American museums in the illicit antiquities trade. At minute 49 the talk turns to WikiLoot, an effort to harness technology to expose the illicit trade. A Q&A follows.

The Cleveland List: 21 objects Turkey wants Cleveland Museum of Art to Return

UPDATE: Steven Litt at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has published an update on the Cleveland case here, saying the case “could shake the foundations of encyclopedic museums.” The Cleveland Museum was first contacted by Turkey in 2008, and took two years to respond before refusing to allow testing on the contested objects or provide information about their provenance, Litt reports.

We noted with interest that several of the questioned objects were acquired under former Cleveland antiquities curator Arielle Kozloff, who worked closely with the Getty’s Marion True to exhibit the Fleischman Collection, went on to work for the Merrin Gallery, and now describes herself as “a private consultant and lecturer for museums and private collectors.” In this video, Kozloff expresses her admiration for former Cleveland director Sherman Lee, saying, “As soon as the glimpse of a question arose about [a contested painting], he went right after it to find the truth and made sure that the truth came out.” Times have changed at the Cleveland.

UPDATE II: David Gill notes that Kozloff has suggested previously that one of the museum’s contested bronzes came from Bubon, Turkey and was looted in the 1960s  – a claim she has now backed away from. And Paul Barford has some additional thoughts here.

On Saturday, Jason revealed in the Los Angeles Times that the government of Turkey is seeking the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from American museums, including 21 objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We’ve posted a complete list of the Cleveland objects below. They range from 14th Century BC Hittite objects through the Greek and Roman period and up to Ottoman period tiles and ceramic work.

The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180)(CMA 1986.5)

The most prominent piece is likely this bronze Roman statue believed to represent Marcus Aurelius, which Cleveland acquired in 1986. On its website, the museum describes its origin as “Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia.)” It is unclear how the bronze got from Bubon to Cleveland, and whether the object was granted an export permit, as required since the passage of Turkey’s 1906 cultural patrimony law. The Cleveland Museum of Art declined to answer questions about Turkey’s claim.

As David Gill has noted, a series of monumental bronze statues were taken from the sebasteion, or imperial cult room, of Bubon. A similar bronze depicting Lucius Verus is in the collection of Shelby White.

In the coming days, we’ll be posting details on the requested objects at the Getty and Dumbarton Oaks. We already posted the list of contested objects at the Met  here.