Following a three-year government probe, two sandstone lintels from the ninth and 10th centuries have been repatriated to Thailand. The hand-carved, 1,500-pound lintels, which hail from protected religious sanctuaries in northeastern Thailand, had been in the collection of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, which is owned by the city of San Francisco, for more than five decades. In a ceremony in Los Angeles on May 25, the lintels began what Manasvi Srisodapol, Thailand’s Ambassador to the United States, called their “sacred journey back home.” The pair will soon go on display at the Bangkok National Museum in Phra Nakhon.
With over 18,000 artifacts in its collection, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is the largest museum exclusively dedicated to Asian art in the United States. It was founded in 1966 to house the art collection of Avery Brundage, an industrialist and 20-year International Olympic Committee president who donated his collection of over 7,000 Asian artworks and antiquities to the city of San Francisco starting in 1959. Brundage purchased one lintel in 1966; the other was a museum purchase in 1968. Both lintels were bought from European dealers and went on view at the museum in the late 1960s.
Archaeologist Tanongsak Hanwong was conducting research in 2016 when he discovered images of the lintels in the San Francisco museum’s collection. Tanongsak initiated an online campaign for their return, and later that year, the Thai consul general visited the museum in person. In May 2017, the Thai government issued an official request for the artifacts’ repatriation. So began a three-year probe led by Homeland Security Investigations, which works with foreign governments to combat the trafficking of cultural artifacts.
Research revealed that the lintels were from Nong Hong Temple, dated 1000-1080, and Khao Lon Temple, dated 975-1025. While the exact date that the lintels were taken from the temples is unknown, photos depict the lintels in situ as late as the 1950s. These sacred sites, located in northeastern Thailand, had been protected by Thai law since the 1930s. Exhaustive research failed to unearth any evidence of the export licenses mandated under Thai law at the time.
The Asian Art Museum had already announced plans to begin the process of deaccessioning the lintels because of the lack of proper export documentation when the Department of Justice filed a civil forfeiture complaint in October 2020. The museum said that the complaint, which was settled in February 2021, “came as a surprise.”
“The museum was deeply concerned that the complaint, apart from being unmerited, would hamper our existing plans to return the two lintels as swiftly as possible,” a statement read.
The complaint alleged that the lintels were removed from Thailand illegally, but the museum argued that there was “no affirmative evidence of that fact.” The museum suggested that the US Department of Justice was conflating the two lintels with a third lintel belonging to Brundage. Brundage repatriated the third lintel, which was never in the Asian Art Museum’s collection, in 1970 after he received a letter from the Thai government informing him that it was stolen. In June 2020, the museum removed a bust of Brundage, a fixture by the visitor’s entrance, in response to criticisms that the founding patron was racist and anti-Semitic.
Goya’s Coded Love Letter to the Duchess of Alba
Goya neatly clothes himself in his own world of fantasy: He will have her in the end. In life, where the climate is much chillier, it was, alas, to be otherwise.
Witches Take Over Westchester
Bowen’s multimedia art is an alchemical mix of the sensuous and arcane, and it is more than a little witchy.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
14 Art Books and Catalogues We’re Reading This Month
Anthologies and catalogues on feminist art in Latin America, Native mound building, Armenian photography, and more are on our reading list.
Saudi Arabia Announces $1M “Freedom of Expression” Art Award
Kanye West, Roman Polanski, and Carl Andre are among the shortlisted artists.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
British Museum Offers Greece “Exclusive NFT” of the Parthenon Marbles
“With the power of blockchain technology, there will be no question who the real owner is,” said a British Museum spokesperson.
MoMA to Co-Curate Exhibition With NYPD
Arrest Me, Daddy hopes to cast a more positive light on the work of law enforcement officers.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
Repatriation-Inspired Fragrance Line Hopes to Heal Collector Wounds
The exotic scents of the Rapatriement line offer solace and joy to dismayed collectors who were forced to return looted artifacts.
Mediocre Painting Thought AI-Generated Revealed as Work of Real Artist
Visitors who spoke to Hyperallergic said they were “horrified” to learn that a human could come up with such a banal and poorly executed artwork.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Prince Harry to Star in New Van Gogh Biopic
The estranged prince said he took the role to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Newly Discovered Trove of Vermeer Works Reveals He Painted Mainly Dogs
A cache of 243 paintings found in an English castle, all depicting canine subjects, suggests Vermeer’s true aspiration was to become a dog portraitist.