The Cambodian government says the stone relics, depicting the heads of gods and demons, match a set stolen from one of the nation’s sacred sites years ago.
It is not known who changed the photo or for what reason, but experts interviewed for this story concluded that the sculptures were edited out of the magazine image.
The owners of the mansion in San Francisco are lawyer and writer Sloan Lindemann Barnett and her husband Roger Barnett, the head of a food supplement company. The couple did not respond to journalists’ e-mail and telephone messages.
The Cambodian investigation of a family collection goes beyond a single set of statues. The stone artifacts in the San Francisco home appear to come from a larger collection of Khmer relics held by Lindemann Barnett’s billionaire parents, Frieda and the late George Lindemann.
The parent collection appeared in an earlier publication of Architectural Digest in 2008, described as “one of the largest collections of Southeast Asian art in private hands.” These photos show their home in Palm Beach, Florida, filled with Khmer antiquities, many of which the Cambodian government suspects were looted. Two of them appear to match artifacts that are among the country’s 10 most important stolen relics, the government says.
“Some of these statues are of great historical and cultural significance to Cambodia and should be repatriated as soon as possible,” said Furng Sakona, the country’s minister of culture and fine arts, who is leading the country’s efforts to recover thousands of lost artifacts.
“It’s not just art,” said Sopheap Meas, an archaeologist working with the Cambodian team. “We believe that the souls of our ancestors are kept in each of them.”
Agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s antiquities division have contacted the Lindemann family in recent years about its Khmer collection, and there is no indication the family plans to return the statues, according to two people close to the effort who spoke on condition of anonymity. anonymity as it is a work in progress.
The Lindemann family has not been charged with wrongdoing related to the artifacts. Frieda Lindemann did not respond to journalists’ messages.
The discovery of the altered photograph is part of a wider investigation by Finance Uncovered, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Washington Post into the fate of thousands of relics linked to art thieves and dealers. As The Post and ICIJ previously reported, many of these treasures can be found in the collections of respected Western art museums.
New reports shed light on the role of private collectors who buy antiques of uncertain provenance and the opaque world of the antiquities trade.
Stolen artifacts, having left the borders of the native country, are difficult to return to the homeland. With limited ability to enforce their return, authorities in affected countries rely mostly on the assistance of law enforcement agencies in the United States and other countries where the items end up. But such investigations are expensive, often seen as a low priority for overburdened agencies, and rarely lead to convictions, in part because owners can say they purchased the looted works unknowingly.
“This is a systemic problem” in the art market, said Domenic DiGiovanni, a former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who specializes in antiquities. There is little incentive for dealers and private collectors to stop buying looted art, he said, and “having to return something is just the cost of doing business.”
Asked about the redacted image, Erin Kaplan, a spokeswoman for Architectural Digest, a Condé Nast publication, said in an email that the magazine published the photo, which did not show the relic, because of “pending rights to publish certain works of art.” Kaplan declined to say who changed the photo or to elaborate on her comment about pending publication rights.