Cleveland Museum of Art Sues Manhattan DA’s Office Over Seizure of $20 M. Bronze Statue

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) filed a lawsuit against the Manhattan District Attorney‘s office on Thurday over the earlier seizure of a headless bronze statue, estimated to be worth $20 million.

The museum stated in its lawsuit that it “does not question that the New York district attorney sometimes gets it right and returns true stolen items to foreign nations. Based on the evidence adduced thus far and the opinions of experts available to the museum, this is not one of those times.”

The court filing says the CMA lawfully purchased the “Draped Male Figure” for $1.85 million from the New York art gallery Edward H. Merrin in 1986 and that the evidence from the office of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg “has fallen short of persuasive proof” that the statue is a piece of stolen property. The lawsuit cites “uncertainty surrounding its identification” as an item looted from the city of Bubon; a lack of response from the Consul General for Turkey after the museum asked for clarification about its inquiries over the provenance of 22 items, including the statue; and says the museum has “repeatedly told the Manhattan DA’s office its evidence is “insufficient and inconsistent””.

The bronze statue is estimated to be from 150 to 200 BCE and is considered by the CMA to be one of its “most significant works” in its collection of 61,000 items. It has appeared in exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in “the late 60s”, the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1971 to 1974, the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1976 to 1980, as well as Rutgers University in 1981.

On August 14, a New York County Supreme Court judge signed a warrant ordering the seizure of the 76-inch-tall statue as part of an ongoing investigation by the Manhattan DA‘s office into antiquities trafficked from Turkey.

The statue is currently physically located at the CMA though a “seizure in place”.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, seeks a judge to declare that the museum is the rightful owner and right of possession of the statue, that the Manhattan DA has wrongfully detained it, and the CMA is entitled to its immediate return.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Charles Fleming, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which first reported the news of the lawsuit. The Ohio newspaper also reported that Turkey first made claims about the statue in 2012 after releasing a list of 22 items in the Cleveland museum’s collection that it said had been looted from the country.