Last weeks' decision by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to repatriate two 10th century Khmer statues to Cambodia prompted a thoughtful response from Professor Patty Gerstenblith that focuses on the important matter of private collectors and repatriation.
In an opinion letter published by The New York Times, the director of the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University College of Law writes, "The Met is leading the way, along with other museums ... in deciding that restitution accompanied by cultural property agreements establishes mutually beneficial relationships that allow the world’s cultural heritage to be shared with the American public in ways that ensure the objects’ authenticity and impart knowledge as well as beauty."
Prof. Gerstenblith pointedly adds, "While public institutions can benefit from these agreements, it is less clear that the private collector can do so. The challenge now is to create incentives for private restitution that can produce comparable mutual benefits."
Creating safe and easy repatriation options for private collectors who discover that they are in possession looted, stolen, or smuggled cultural property is an important matter for discussion. No mechanism currently exists that smoothly facilitates the repatriation of contraband cultural heritage without exposing innocent collectors or good faith purchasers to potential legal and financial risks. There is no equivalent "Gun Buy Back Program" or "National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day" for archaeological, paleontological, ethnological or other cultural heritage items. That is why a conversation among policymakers, archaeologists, collectors, dealers, auction houses, and other stakeholders needs to take place.
Photo credit: Gytizzz
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