Not too long ago, it’s grow to be extra obvious that our museums and different institutional collections are overrun with looted antiquities and cultural objects of unknown provenance. The Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in Manhattan got here beneath elevated scrutiny this yr following the publication of two damning reviews: The primary, by ProPublica, make clear the museum’s unsatisfactory provenance data for 85% of objects from a selected assortment of Native American artwork; the second, by the Worldwide Consortium of Investigative Journalists, found that roughly 1,000 objects from the museum’s assortment had been linked to people or teams accused or convicted of trafficking antiquities from overseas.
In mild of the Douglas Latchford property’s $12M settlement and repatriation of a Vietnamese statue of Hindu goddess Durga earlier this summer time — essentially the most vital forfeiture of looted antiquities income up to now — we determined to take a better take a look at three of essentially the most infamous antiquities traffickers, beginning with none apart from Latchford himself.
Douglas Latchford was a British artwork supplier who had his arms deep within the pockets of the illicit commerce marketplace for Khmer antiquities for over 50 years. Born in Mumbai throughout the British Raj and educated in England, Latchford moved to Thailand for work in pharmaceutical distribution throughout the late Fifties, the place he was launched to Khmer artwork. Between the late Fifties and early Nineteen Sixties, Latchford amassed his personal assortment of Khmer antiquities at low costs from vintage outlets and markets earlier than capitalizing on the civil warfare in Cambodia that started in 1967.
Fashioning himself as a cultural preservationist moderately than an opportunistic pilferer, Latchford knowingly bought looted statues and stones from historical websites of worship, together with a number of temples in Koh Ker, throughout the upheaved nation present process genocide by the Khmer Rouge. He started promoting them internationally throughout the Nineteen Seventies. Outdoors of his regular stream of personal collectors, Latchford collaborated with Martin Lerner, former curator of South and Southeast Asian artwork at The Met, and offered the museum’s assortment with no less than 33 objects looted from Cambodia. Issues fell aside for the collector in 2007 when his co-written e-book with Emma Bunker related a part of a long-lost statue he had bought to a Californian museum to the remaining pedestal left behind at the Koh Ker temple in Cambodia.
Latchford’s reign as a Khmer antiquities professional started to unravel quickly by 2011 when he was linked to another trafficked statue from a Koh Ker temple that was set to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s, prompting the Cambodian authorities to intervene. Whereas a whole lot of looted artifacts bought or gifted by Latchford have since been forfeited and repatriated to Cambodia, museums internationally nonetheless maintain Khmer objects related to the late supplier of their collections.
Subhash Kapoor, an Indian artwork supplier who made a fortune on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue by way of looted South and Southeast Asian cultural artifacts, was not too long ago hit with a 10-year jail sentence in India for the looting and unlawful export of 19 vintage idols from a Tamil Nadu temple in 2000. Known as “one of many most prolific smugglers on the planet,” Kapoor opened his gallery, Artwork of the Previous, in 1974, however reportedly grew to become concerned in a group trafficking operation in 1986. By way of Artwork of the Previous, Kapoor started supplying Asian antiquities to museums and collectors throughout the nation and internationally, incomes him a fame as a extensively revered artwork supplier and professional in spiritual antiquities. On the opposite facet of the world, Kapoor and his associates had been coordinating with local gangs throughout India to entry priceless artifacts, stop locals from intervening, and throwing customs officers off-track with made-up histories surrounding the exported idols.
It was a 2008 police report from the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple in Tamil Nadu’s Ariyalur district, the very temple Kapoor’s looting operations focused in 2000, that spawned the supplier’s fall from grace. The Indian authorities flagged Kapoor and his operations internationally, and the supplier was found and detained by Interpol at the Cologne Airport in Germany in 2011 earlier than he was extradited to Chennai, India. Kapoor awaited trial for his crimes for practically a decade, and it was later revealed by way of “Operation Hidden Idol” that the supplier had facilitated the looting and export of over 2,600 cultural and spiritual objects from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and several other different nations valued at a collective $143 million.
Earlier this yr, The Met repatriated 15 objects from its assortment that had been related to Kapoor again to India. The Yale College Artwork Gallery had 13 objects offered by Kapoor seized and repatriated in 2022, and roughly 250 objects linked to Kapoor’s dealings had been repatriated from america in 2021.
Switching gears to European antiquity trafficking, convicted Italian smuggler Giacomo Medici started dealing antiquities in Rome throughout the Nineteen Sixties. In 1967, Medici had been launched to American artwork supplier Robert E. Hecht and commenced supplying him with a considerable amount of European and Mediterranean antiquities earlier than opening up his Roman gallery, Antiquaria Romana, and exploring enterprise operations in Switzerland a yr later. In 1971, Medici reportedly bought the looted Euphronios krater (c. 515 BCE), a big, historical Greek ceramic vessel for diluting wine with water, from tomb raiders who allegedly excavated it from the Etruscan necropolises in Cerveteri. Medici bought the krater to Hecht, who had it restored in Zurich earlier than promoting it to The Met for a whopping $1M in 1972, regardless of holes within the provenance (a non-issue to then-museum director Thomas Hoving). In 1973, the New York Times produced a sequence of reviews investigating the provenance holes of the acquired krater, however the Italian authorities couldn’t give you proof of its origin.
Medici closed up store in Rome and entered a enterprise partnership with Genevan resident Christian Boursaud in 1978. The pair grew to become essentially the most prevalent suppliers for consignment at Sotheby’s London all through the Nineteen Eighties and determined to open up Hydra Gallery collectively in 1983. It was by way of Hydra Gallery that Medici orchestrated the sale of the remaining fragments of the Onesimos kylix (c. 490 BCE) to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 1985, offering falsified provenance by way of the Zbinden collection that he typically used for Sotheby’s London as properly. Medici ultimately went solo once more and commenced consigning and repurchasing looted antiquities by way of “entrance corporations” to extend demand and market worth.
Nevertheless, the jig was up in 1995 when Sotheby’s London marketed a sarcophagus for public sale that the Italian police had acknowledged as stolen from the church of San Saba in Rome. This, coupled with the unearthing of a hand-drawn diagram highlighting Medici as the point person for unlawful artifact commerce to Hecht, led the Italian police to analyze Medici’s Geneva storage areas. Medici was arrested in 1997, and a complete stock of his Geneva storerooms confirmed that he was in possession of practically 4,000 antiquities and images of them in numerous phases of restoration together with hundreds of paperwork pertaining to his transactions and connections. The Getty repatriated the kylix fragments to Italy in 1999, 4 years earlier than Medici’s trial started. In 2005, Medici was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay €10 million in damages to the Italian Ministry for the receipt of, unlawful export, and trafficking of stolen items. The Met ultimately repatriated the krater in 2008.