Cleveland Museum Takes Legal Stand Over $20 Million Bronze Statue Seizure

Cleveland Museum

In a surprising twist, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) has thrown down the gauntlet against the Manhattan District Attorney‘s office. The bone of contention? A valuable headless bronze statue worth an estimated $20 million. Let’s get the lowdown on this legal tussle.

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) Side of the Story

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) is not mincing words in its lawsuit, asserting that it doesn’t doubt the good intentions of the New York district attorney when it comes to returning legitimately stolen artworks to their rightful homes. However, this time, they believe the DA got it wrong. And then, the lawsuit argues that the CMA legally bought the “Draped Male Figure” for $1.85 million from New York’s Edward H. Merrin art gallery back in 1986. They contend that the evidence provided by the Manhattan DA’s office falls short of being convincing proof that the statue is indeed stolen property.

Among their concerns, they highlight “uncertainty surrounding its identification” as a looted piece from the city of Bubon, a lack of response from the Consul General for Turkey when the museum inquired about the provenance of 22 items, including the statue, and repeated communication to the DA’s office pointing out the “insufficient and inconsistent” nature of their evidence.

Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA): A Priceless Bronze at the Heart of the Matter

This bronze masterpiece is believed to date back to 150-200 BCE and holds the esteemed title of being one of the CMA’s “most significant works” among its vast collection of 61,000 items. It has made appearances in various exhibitions, gracing the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the late ’60s, the Indianapolis Museum of Art from 1971 to 1974, the Minneapolis Institute of Art from 1976 to 1980, and even Rutgers University in 1981.

The Seizure and Ongoing Investigation

Things got real on August 14 when a judge from New York County Supreme Court issued a warrant to seize the 76-inch-tall statue. The move was part of an ongoing investigation led by the Manhattan DA’s office into the trafficking of antiquities from Turkey. And then, at present, the statue physically situated at the CMA, held under a “seizure in place” arrangement.

The Lawsuit Takes Center Stage

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) didn’t hesitate to make its case, filing a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Their demands are clear: they want the court to declare them as the rightful owner with full possession rights to the statue. And then, they believe that the Manhattan DA has wrongfully detained it and are seeking its immediate return.

The Legal Showdown

The case has landed in the lap of U.S. District Judge Charles Fleming, as reported by The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the first source to break the news about the lawsuit. Notably, Turkey raised concerns about the statue back in 2012, when they released a list of 22 items from the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) collection, alleging they had looted from the country.

In a world where art and ownership blur lines, the CMA is standing its ground, believing it rightfully possesses this ancient masterpiece. As the legal saga unfolds, the fate of the bronze statue hangs in the balance, reminding us that in the art world, history, ownership, and legality often intertwine in complex ways.