Another piece that passed through a disgraced dealer’s New York gallery has gone back to Southeast Asia.
On Wednesday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced the return of a Vishnu statue from a 7th-century temple to Cambodia. The statue was given over in a repatriation ceremony attended by United States ambassador Keo Chhea and a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations team.
The district attorney’s office of Alvin L. Bragg said the Cambodian statue was broken and looted from its original location under Wiener’s direction. After restoration work was completed, the sandstone figure was smuggled into Manhattan through Thailand in 1995 and sold to a private collector.
The repatriation is the latest instance of a work that was looted, stolen, or taken during colonization heading home. The Manhattan DA’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit has said it has seized more than 3,000 items, returning some of them to countries like Nepal, Cambodia, Italy, Egypt, and Indonesia.
According to the DA’s office, Wiener had a multi-decade practice of dealing and trafficking in Southeast Asian items. Starting in the 1960s, Wiener, who died in 2011, sold the items through her gallery in New York County and with her daughter, Nancy.
Nancy was charged in 2016 and pled guilty to charges of conspiracy last October, after acknowledging in court that she used fake places of origin to cover for the cloudier histories of some items she sold.
Some of the items the Wieners acquired went to prominent art museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, which still have these works in their collections.
Erin Thompson, an associate professor of art crime at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, anticipates more notices like this will come out of the Manhattan DA’s office and the New York division of Homeland Security Investigations.
“They can subpoena auction house records to find out where something ended up,” she told ARTnews. “If I were a private collector holding something I bought from a Doris Wiener collection or her gallery, I would get in touch with Cambodia or Nepal or India.”
For almost a decade, Cambodia has been pressuring museums to return antiquities taken during a 20-year period of civil war and genocide.
“Some museums are cooperating, others are not,” Thompson said. “Cambodia has enough proof to keep the antiquities squad of the DA’s office busy for a long time if these negotiations fail. The window of opportunity for nice negotiation seems to be fast closing.”
“The artifacts that have been repatriated—and others that I am sure will be repatriated in the future—are a vital part of our cultural legacy and our sense of nationhood,” Keo Chhea, the U.S. ambassador, said in a statement. “They were looted from places where they had been situated in peace for centuries, and they belong in Cambodia.”
The repatriation of the Standing Sandstone Vishnu is part of a larger effort by the Manhattan DA’s office to return looted art items, including last year’s $15 million case investigation into more than 200 items from India.