BY ANGELICA VILLA of ARTnews
Antiquities were recently seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Manhattan District Attorney’s as part of a larger effort to return artifacts to their countries of origin.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has so far obtained six warrants to seize artifacts from the Met this year. In mid-July, alongside federal agents, New York authorities seized 27 allegedly looted artifacts valued in excess of $11 million that derive from Greece, Italy and Egypt.
Among the more valuable artifacts confiscated as part of the effort was a marble head of the Greek goddess Athena dating from around 200 BCE. Two statues depicting the mythical Greek brothers Castor and Pollux believed to have been produced during the Roman Empire were also seized, according to public documents obtained by the International Center of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). It is the largest seizure of objects at the Met to date.
The office also obtained a warrant from a judge to go after a 6th-century sculpture of a Hindu deity produced in present-day India on Tuesday.
Representatives at the Met did not immediately respond to ARTnews’s requests for comment.
The seizures were carried out by New York antiquities trafficking unit, an office established in 2017. The unit works closely with officials from the foreign governments to obtain warrants to carry out seizures.
Museums have faced increasing public calls to repatriate antiquities with unclear provenance records. The Met’s repatriation policy requires countries that make an official claim on a relic to provide proof that it was stolen or illegally exported.
Recent scrutiny has been placed on the museum’s collection of Asian artifacts, which includes Cambodian antiquities that are believed to have been handled by the late art dealer Douglas Latchford, who authorities said ran a network that trafficked in antiquities. Cambodian officials have recently engaged with the museum to return some items connected to Latchford.
New York’s ramped-up efforts targeting stolen antiquities housed by major museums has spurred some debate among experts. Some have claimed that the objects being seized by the DA’s office are not always high-quality and that officials taking them have unfairly made the seizures into a PR opportunity.
BY ANGELICA VILLA