Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Koh Ker fragments in US Collections

The New York Times has an article which is the follow-up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent decision to return two statues to Cambodia (Tom Masberg, 'Cambodia Presses U.S. Museums to Relinquish Antiquities', New York Times May 15, 2013).  This refers to the several other US museums that own works believed to have been taken from the same 10th-century Khmer temple, Prasat Chen, part of the archaeological site Koh Ker. It shows that at least six of the looted works ended up in the United States. Among them are the figures at the Metropolitan Museum, and the one in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and the one being contested with its Belgian owner (Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa after she shipped it to Sotheby's in the US to flog off). In addition to these, Cambodia says the Denver Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art also have material illicitly taken from this temple. There is an excellent presentation here -  From Jungle to Museum and Back? which puts the known statues in the context of the site itself and the plan of the temple. It gives the date of acquisition of the items in US museums ("acquired in four pieces 1987-92", "acquired 1980", "acquired 1982", "acquired 1986"). If we assume that they were looted at the same time as those presently contested (ie c. 1970/71) it raises the issue that several of them must have passed through some private collection or other after dismemberment. 

Here are several other "Koh Ker style" objects at the Cleveland Museum,  note in particular the:
"Head of a Deity or a Deified King, 928-941 Cambodia, Style of Koh Ker, Reign of Jayavarman IV, 928-941 gray sandstone, Overall - h:37.40 cm (h:14 11/16 inches). Dudley P. Allen Fund 1923".95"
thus dating back to 1920s. So how did this leave the jungle site? Who removed it? How did it get to Cleveland? 

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