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Koh Ker Statue Controversy Gets Hotter as Cambodia Targets the Met

June 2, 2012

Kneeling Male Attendant, Cambodia, Angkor period, Khmer style of Koh Ker, ca. 921–45. Provenance: Douglas Latchford, London (until 1989). Exhibition History: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and Southeast Asia, 1994 to present. References: (1) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Annual Report for the Year 1992–1993, p. 18. (2) Carò, Federico. “Khmer Stone Sculptures: A Collection Seen from a Material Point of View,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 67, no. 1 (Summer 2009), pp. 26–32.

Cambodia is getting bolder and more aggressive in its attempt to restitute national patrimony it claims is looted.  Along with a life size stone Khmer statue currently held by Sotheby’s, Cambodian government officials, according to the New York Times, are now seeking the return of two statues from the ancient Koh Ker temple complex — the Kneeling Attendants —  in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

“The government is very serious about moving this forward, and we are getting much legal advice,” said Im Sokrithy, a director of Apsara, the Cambodian agency that oversees heritage and land management at the sprawling temple complex where, archaeologists say, the statues stood for centuries. “We are taking a forceful position, and we hope they can be returned.”

One of the more interesting items in the Times story is this quote about the Kneeling Attendants, the statue at Sotheby’s, and, though not mentioned, a fourth work now at the Norton Simon:

Archaeologists believe the Kneeling Attendants stood for about 1,000 years at the Prasat Chen temple in a vast site called Koh Ker, about 200 miles northwest of Phnom Penh, said Eric Bourdonneau, who directs a project at the site overseen by the French School of Asian Studies. The Met statues, the experts say, stood a few yards from the Sotheby’s warrior, a figure known as Duryodhana.

Koh Ker, Cambodia.

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