• News
  • Apr 29, 2024

Met Returns Sculptures and Signs Memorandum with Thailand

Exterior of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Courtesy Wikicommons.

On April 25, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) and officials of Thailand’s Ministry of Culture signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on the display and research of Thai art. The press event took place at the Met and, in good faith, the museum repatriated two 11th-century Thai sculptures.

The signatories included Met director Max Hollein and Phnombootra Chandrajoti, director general of the Thai government’s Fine Arts Department. Hollein stated that the returned relics “rightfully belong to the Kingdom of Thailand,” while John Guy, the museum’s curator of South and Southeast Asian art, called them “unrivalled masterpieces.” 

The two Khmer-style sculptures from the Angkor period, Standing Shiva and Kneeling Female Figure, were deaccessioned by the Met in December 2023. When the US Attorney’s Office charged antique dealer and smuggler Douglas Latchford with trafficking looted artifacts in 2019, the Met immediately removed all Angkorian relics associated with Latchford from its collection and scheduled their return. The antiquities include 14 Cambodian sculptures and the two recently returned Thai works.

Known and adored as the “golden boy” in Thailand, Standing Shiva was donated by the media tycoon and collector Walter H. Annenberg in 1988, and according to the Met is “the most complete extant gilded-bronze image from Angkor.” Kneeling Female Figure was purchased by exchange from the Bequest of Joseph H. Durkee in 1972. It likely depicts a Khmer queen as part of a group of sculptures venerating a deity, and the seating etiquette represented by the sculpture is still practiced in Thailand today.

The return costs will be settled by the Met. Next month, Guy will accompany the two works to Thailand and participate in a lecture at the National Museum in Bangkok, where the sculptures will be displayed. The signing of the MoU and the return follow the Met’s recently announced initiatives on cultural property, including reviewing works in its collection; hiring provenance researchers to join the museum’s existing curatorial team; engaging staff and trustees; and using its platform to support and contribute to repatriation discourse.

Xinyi Ye is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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