The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is working to return 14 sculptures and other objects stolen by smugglers in Cambodia as the country suffered decades of civil war and other internal struggles, as well as two objects in Thailand.
The illegal provenance of the items was discovered during an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the New York Office of Homeland Security Investigations. Museum staff also conducted their own investigation, which confirmed the U.S. Attorney General's suspicions.
Homeland Security Special Agent Erin Keegan said in a statement that the investigation revealed the works were “shamelessly stolen” by art dealer, collector and scholar Douglas AJ Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 for “directing a vast trafficking in antiquities”. network outside Southeast Asia,” according to U.S. Attorney Damien Williams. Latchford died the following year, but had denied any involvement in smuggling. (Associated Press)
During his lifetime, Latchford gave the impression that he was a scholar dedicated to protecting Cambodia's art and culture. He built a reputation donating Cambodian artwork to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other famous organizations. Latchford is also the author of three books filled with photos of Cambodian statues. It was later discovered that many of the antiques featured in his books had been stolen.
U.S. attorney Brad Gordon, who has worked with the Cambodian government for more than 10 years to recover lost antiquities, said this about Latchford's books: "He used the books as sales catalogs. You know, he was handing them out. He used them to sell coins. And he understood a certain psychology of collectors that if they see something in a beautiful book, they think it's legitimate. (MSN)
Earlier this year, a number of works of art, including 77 pieces of jewelry made from various precious metals, were returned to Cambodia. Items included necklaces, earrings and crowns. Additionally, several bronze and stone objects were repatriated to Cambodia in September 2021.
The returned objects were created during Cambodia's Angkorian period, which lasted from the XNUMXth to XNUMXth centuries, and are important symbols of Buddhist and Hindu religious ideals. Many artifacts from the Angkorian period can be found at Angkor Wat in northwest Cambodia.
The head of a Buddha statue was among the stolen items, as well as a goddess statue from Koh Ker, in northern Cambodia. The head of Buddha is made of stone and is dated to the XNUMXth century, while the statue of the goddess is made of sandstone and is dated to the XNUMXth century.
Following the U.S. Attorney General's investigation, the museum is hiring more staff to research the provenance of the objects it holds and reviewing its collections management practices.
Max Hollein, executive director of the Metropolitan Museum, had this to say about how the museum hoped to move forward: “(We are) committed to pursuing partnerships and collaborations with Cambodia and Thailand that will advance the understanding and appreciation of Khmer art around the world, and we look forward to embarking on this new chapter together. (Reuters)
The return of items returned to Cambodia and Thailand will take time and no exact date has yet been set for their return. However, while the process is underway, 10 of the artworks will remain on display at the Metropolitan Museum, alongside panels explaining the circumstances of their repatriation.