Sun Times October 25, 1988 Art Institute offers plan to return Thai carving By K. O. Dawes

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Sun Times October 25, 1988 Art Institute offers plan to return Thai carving By K. O. Dawes and Philip Franchine The "Reclining Vishnu" carving may be going home to Thailand after a 20-year odyssey if a plan announced Monday by the Art Institute of Chicago works out. The Art Institute said that once it gets a work of equal merit from the Elizabeth Cheney Foundation here, expected within three weeks, it will relinquish the carving, a national treasure in Thailand. Thai government officials have demanded "unconditional" return of the carving, which they say was stolen from a Hindu temple in the 1960s. "My over-all reaction is cautions optimism," said David Ambuel of the Thai Vishnu Lintel Committee, which has lobbied for the carving's return. "People are hoping that it's going to come true." "I haven't gotten anything from the Art Institute. I have no reaction," said Thailand Consul Charal Plangtrakul. Art Institute and Cheney Foundation officials would not discuss the value of the Vishnu carving or its replacement. "This solution meets our requirement for just compensation and we are glad, therefore, to be able to donate the lintel to Thailand," said James N. Wood, Art Institute director. Word that the Art Institute would relinquish the Vishnu lintel bas relief to the Thai government came on the eve of a City Council hearing on the matter. Ald. Luis V. Gutierrez (26th), a sponsor of a resolution asking the Art Institute to return the Vishnu, said Monday, "The Art Institute stalled this hearing in the City Council for four months until they knew they couldn't stall it any more." Gutierrez said today's hearing still would be held and invited Art Institute representatives to make a public announcement there. Art Institute spokesman Larry TerMolen said museum officials would not attend the hearing. He said the Vishnu was not stolen, but was purchased on the open market from a New York dealer who bought it from a Bangkok dealer under Thai jurisdiction. Gutierrez said he believed the Art Institute feared "claims on other pieces of art" and "couldn't distinguish between national and artistic importance." "If the Liberty Bell showed up in a foreign museum, would we agree to exchange it for another national treasure?" Gutierrez asked. The controversy began in 1972, when a visiting Thai prince told Art Institute officials that the carving was a missing antiquity. Negotiators for the Art Institute and the Thai government could not agree on how the museum should be compensated if it returned the carving. Alan Drebin, a Northwestern University business school professor, became aware of the "stir" over the lintel when teaching summers in Thailand, said Scott McCue, spokesman for the Cheney Foundation. Drebin, a Cheney director, suggested a plan much like the one announced Monday, said McCue. Thailand claims the one-ton, 900-year-old carving of the Hindu god Vishnu was moved by helicopter from a Khmer Dynasty temple when U. S. troops were in the mountainous area. It was purchased by Art Institute trustee and former board president James Alsdorf from a New York dealer in 1967. [Caption under photo of the lintel reads: "The `Reclining Vishnu' carving, which has been the source of a dispute between the government of Thailand and the Art Institute of Chicago."]


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank