Sun Times October 25, 1988 Art Institute offers plan to return Thai carving By K. O. Dawes
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
Thai government officials have demanded "unconditional" return
of the carving, which they say was stolen from a Hindu temple in
"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
"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
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
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
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."]
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