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Met Museum to Return 16 Looted Khmer Artifacts

By admin Dec17,2023

An ancient larger-than-life sandstone Buddha head, a bronze sculpture of a seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and a 10th-century goddess statuette from a remote temple complex are among 16 looted Khmer works currently in the process of repatriation back to Cambodia and Thailand, according to announcements by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) released today, December 15.

Fourteen of the pieces will be returned to Cambodia and two will be returned to Thailand, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art said effectively expunges its collection of all known Khmer artwork connected to infamous antiquities trafficker Douglas Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 for purchasing works stolen from Cambodian heritage sites and illicitly dealing the looted items on the international market for over half a century. (Latchford died in 2020, before his trial).

Unknown artist, “The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Seated in Royal Ease” (late 10th–early 11th century) copper alloy, silver inlay, 22 3/4 x 18 x 12 inches

Made between the 9th and 14th centuries, the sculptures are prime examples of the Hindu and Buddhist religious systems that dominated the era in which they were crafted. Ten of the 16 items will remain on display in The Met’s galleries for South Asian art with updated labels noting their deaccession from the museum’s collection while arrangements for their return are made, a Met spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

The museum’s repatriation efforts come after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published a report in March that revealed The Met’s collection holds more than a thousand objects connected to individuals accused or convicted of antiquities theft. After several art seizures by the SDNY, the museum announced in May that it would undertake several initiatives to reassess its 1.5 million object collection for looted works, including the hiring of four provenance researchers to review its holdings.

“The Met has been diligently working with Cambodia and the US Attorney’s Office for years to resolve questions regarding these works of art, and new information that arose from this process made it clear that we should initiate the return of this group of sculptures,” The Met’s Director and Chief Executive Officer Max Hollein said in today’s statement. In 2013, the museum voluntarily returned a pair of sculptures known as the “Kneeling Attendants” to Cambodia after learning they had been pillaged from the forested Koh Ker temple complex, the former capital of the Angkorian empire. One of the items now being returned, a sculpture of a female goddess missing its arms and feet, was also looted from this site, where fragments and its original plinth remain as of last November.

Since 2012, SDNY has been investigating and initiating the return of dozens of illegally trafficked Cambodian artifacts. In September, the office came to an agreement with the family of George Lindemann to return 33 stolen antiquities that investigators estimate cost the late billionaire at least $20 million. Several months earlier in June, Latchford’s daughter Julia Copleston also reached a settlement with SDNY to forfeit a 7th-century bronze Vietnamese statue depicting a Hindu deity in addition to $12 million of her father’s money.

Unknown artist, “Standing Female Deity” (10th century), stone, 61 1/2 inches x 10 1/4 inches x 20 1/2 inches

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