Mike Boehm explores the ambiguities of the antiquities trade:
A 1,000-year-old stone stele of the god is scheduled to be unveiled at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon on Valentine’s Day. Having already drawn criticism from the anti-looting advocacy group SAFE –Saving Antiquities for Everyone — the Ganesha could soon be exhibit A in the back-and-forth between those who favor a hard line against collecting ancient works whose paths since before 1970 are murky, and those who think it makes more sense to give museums some leeway when hard proof is lacking. [ . . . ]
Although it’s “a fine example” of its style and period, the Ganesha isn’t a rare item, Graybill said, so adding it to a collection in Oregon creates no gap in the art-historical record available to scholars and the public in India. Also, she said, it has lost any sacred attachment to its place of origin: Muslim invaders 800 years ago destroyed all the Hindu and Buddhist temples in northeastern India, so there is no existing ruin to which it could be restored. Also, Graybill said, in South Asian faiths, an image ceases to be sacred “if it is not actively venerated,” so the Portland museum feels it isn’t violating religious sensibilities by owning the Ganesha.
Is Portland’s Hindu Statue a Looted Antiquity? (Culture Monster/LA Times)