Thursday, June 7, 2012

It ain't gonna happen

12thC head of Jayavarman VII - originally from Angkor, now held in the Guimet Museum
I'm far less excited at the thought of Cambodia being able to get back its cultural treasures locked away in public (ie. museums) or private collections (including art dealers like Sotheby's) around the world after I got a glimpse of the legal mountains that anyone, including the United States government, let alone the Cambodian government, will have to climb in proving provenance and that any items were removed illegally from their country of origin (in this case, Cambodia). It's all down to the legal speak, statutes, previous case histories and being able to prove the items were stolen (including the inside leg measurement of the thief - okay, so that's a slight exaggeration). Jumping through impossibly high hoops comes to mind. International law doesn't appear to be on the side of the wronged party, so don't hold out much hope that the case against Sotheby's will result in a beautiful Angkorian statue finding its way back to Cambodia anytime soon. Pretty much all countries are keen to retain any historical treasures that they currently hold (even if they've found their way into their collection by dubious means) or else their own collections will diminish in interest (and value). Even though the Guimet Museum in Paris is overflowing with Khmer art treasures, brought back to France by explorers/treasure-seekers such as Louis Delaporte in the 19th century, don't expect any of them to be winging their way back home. It ain't gonna happen.
Postscript: An opinion article on CNN offers another view on what they call Blood Antiquities. Read it here. I like this ending. 'Sotheby's and the Met have a choice: They can treat Cambodia's requests as obstacles, or recognize them as the opportunities they are to right past wrongs and set the moral standard for the entire field. For Cambodia's sake, as well as their own - and for all of humanity that finds these treasures important - let us hope that they choose wisely.'

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blood Antiquities? So Sotheby sell blood antiques, isn't it a crime? That must be stopped then.

June 9, 2012 at 9:08 AM  

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