As a longtime lover of Asian art, particularly the sublime Buddhist art of Burma, Bhutan, Thailand and Cambodia, this is a disturbing story, especially when you consider that the museums in the story continued to pursue stolen goods long after they knew it was a crime, that the goods were stolen and long after federal agencies had made it clear they were cracking down and foreign countries were looking to get their cultural heritage(s) back.
The looting of the aritfacts of other nations is nothing new; it’s been going on for centuries. In fact, a lot of people got fabulously wealthy on brokering stolen good – particularly Asian, because there was so little oversight, with many Asian government officials actively participating for a cut of the cash.
In recent years, Greece and Italy in particular have gotten very proactive about recovering the artifactsof bygone eras in foreign museums, and there have been several high profile lawsuits to bring this to international attention. This latest offense, though, as reported in the story linked above, is a bit much to handle.
I personally love seeing these artifacts – they are often unparraleled in beauty and craftsmanship, but I don’t want to participate in the pillaging of another culture. In this editor’s opinion, it’s been long enough that affluent countries have taken advantage of their wealth and power to deplete the material culture of ancient societies that deserve to keep it for themselves, lest they forget from whence they came.
Worse is that the museum’s are claiming ignorance to the crimes. Considering the relatively minor offenses that many people get put away for many years for, their claims ring particularly hollow. The ring of theft of Asian antiquity is well-documented and well known for many years.