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May 17, 2014

Norton Simon Museum announces "Temple Wrestler" last day on display in Pasadena will be May 22

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Today the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena sent out an email to the community:
Dear members and friends, 
You may have read in the newspaper that the Norton Simon Art Foundation is making a gift of its “Temple Wrestler” statue to the Kingdom of Cambodia. This monumental 10th-century sandstone sculpture depicting Bhima, a heroic figure from the Hindu masterpiece The Mahabharata, has been exhibited continuously at the Norton Simon Museum for nearly four decades. During this period, the Museum has taken great care to preserve the work, and to highlight its significance through scholarly research and publication. Now, following a compelling request from officials in Cambodia, the piece will return to its country of origin, joining several other sculptures that are believed to have once stood at a temple in Koh Ker. 
We wanted to inform you that the last day this remarkable artwork will be on public view is next Thursday, May 22nd. For those of you interested in seeing it before it makes its journey to Phnom Penh and to the National Museum there, we hope you will visit us in the coming days. 
Kind regards, 
Leslie C. Denk Director of Public Affairs
On May 6, 2014, the museum had issued a press release announcing the return of the "Temple Wrestler" to the Kingdom of Cambodia "in response to a unique and compelling request by top officials in Cambodia to help rebuild its “soul” as a nation, the Norton Simon has decided to make a gift of the Bhima to the Kingdom of Cambodia and to its people":
The Norton Simon properly acquired the Bhima from a reputable art dealer in New York in 1976. However, the facts about the Bhima’s provenance prior to the dealer’s ownership are unclear because of the chaotic wartime conditions in Cambodia during the 1970s. Even though the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Norton Simon have a good faith difference of views in relation to the meaning and scope of Cambodian law and guidelines governing the determination of ownership of the Bhima, the Norton Simon worked directly with Cambodia to come up with a mutually acceptable solution.
Page 287 of the Handbook of the Norton Simon Museum (2003) contains the image of this statue, identified as a sandstone TEMPLE GUARDIAN 'typical of those found at the site of Koh Ker, which for a brief period (921-928) served as the capital of the Khmer empire'. Other than the acquisition date of 1980, no other information is provided about how the statue traveled from Cambodia to the United States.


Gift? How very noble of them.

Who was the "reputable dealer" in NY?
Who is the provenance researcher the Norton Simon has hired?