Cleveland Museum of Art Director Talks About Complexities of International Law

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The Cleveland Museum of Art voluntarily returned an ancient Cambodian statue to its home country last year.  It was an example of the complexities of art and international law.  ideastream’s Darrielle Snipes has more on today’s subject at the Case Western Reserve School of Law.

Cleveland Museum of Art Director William Griswold says his museum acquired the 10th century Hindu monkey god statue from an art dealer in 1982.  But Griswold says in the last few years, questions started to coming up that the sandstone sculpture of Hanuman might have been looted during Cambodia's civil war. Cambodian officials showed Griswold the statue's missing earring, which had been unearthed at an archeological site. That started a series of negotiations.

Griswold:  "One was the appropriate return of statue of Hanuman and the other was a memorandum of understanding with the national museum of Cambodia that will enable us receive future loans. "

Griswold says international law affects the museum's collection all the time.  And the museum’s lawyer, Josh Knerly says interpreting international art law can be tricky and complex.  He adds there’s often no statute of limitations.

If there isn’t a law in place, Knerly says, a claim can be filed with the U-S Justice Department so they can investigate. But he thinks a more refined procedure needs to be in place. 

Knerly:  "What would be great is if the Justice Department would, in consultation with the foreign countries, would say, “you tell us what you think your laws are. We are going to look at them in the context of whether they meet the requirement that we think is appropriate in order to use them for US purposes."

In 2009, the Cleveland Museum of Art returned 13 pieces to Italy after it was the had been looted.


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