Art Institute of Chicago returns Pilaster to Phanom Rung Temple in Thailand

Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Art Institute of Chicago returns Pilaster to Phanom Rung Temple in Thailand

The Art Institute of Chicago, in collaboration with the Kingdom of Thailand, announced that it has initiated the return of an object—a fragment of a pilaster with Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana—to its place of origin in Thailand.

The museum is committed to ongoing provenance research of our collection, and after conducting new research on this object, the museum proactively reached out to the Thai government to initiate the process to return it.

The object is a 12th-century fragment of a pilaster, which is a rectangular architectural column in the side of a doorframe. The pilaster was previously attributed to Cambodia, and new research identified that it originated at the Phanom Rung temple in northeast Thailand, a temple that the museum had previously returned an object to in the 1980s. With the confirmation of the pilaster’s origins, the museum reached out to the government of Thailand to share these new findings; this collaboration has led to today’s return. 

“We are grateful for our close collaboration with the Fine Arts Department in Thailand and are honored to take this step in what I hope is a long and productive partnership,” said James Rondeau, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago. “We are deeply committed to fostering an ongoing relationship and continuing to learn from each other.”

The Phanom Rung temple is the place of origin of another object—known as the Vishnu lintel—that was previously in the museum’s collection and that was returned to Thailand in 1988. Since that time, the lintel has been restored to the structure; it is the Art Institute’s hope that the pilaster fragment is able to be restored to the same temple and these objects can be reunited.

“This act serves as a model for ethical collecting practices and strengthens the bonds of cultural respect and collaboration between Thailand and the Art Institute of Chicago,” said Mr. Phnombootra Chandrajoti, Director-General of the Fine Arts Department. “This valuable artifact is from one of the most significant archeological sites in Thailand and we are glad it is returning to its motherland.”

Provenance research remains an institutional priority for the Art Institute. In addition to growing our provenance team, we have also established a task force of senior leaders at the museum who work closely with curators and researchers to inform institutional direction on these important topics.

“This collaboration with the Kingdom of Thailand is just one example of the important work that our provenance research team prioritizes across the institution,” said Sarah Guernsey, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President for Curatorial Affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago. “We are living up to our commitment to proactively and rigorously research works in our collection, and transfer the ownership of objects that research demonstrates should be returned to their country of origin.”

Stephanie Cime

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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