Tales from the Antiquities Theft Task Force

A shot of Kim Kardashian leaning against an Egyptian coffin at the 2018 Met Gala by Landon Nordeman exposes his subject in a flash of light—though perhaps not the subject anyone expected.

Out of the thousands upon thousands who saw the shot, one happened to be more interested in the gold coffin than Kim’s (heavenly) body in gold Versace. He had looted the coffin seven years earlier but was never paid for his spoils. And it was now sitting in the Met. Angry and in possession of receipts, he fired off an anonymous email to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to tip them off about the buxom gold figure in the photo next to the Kardashian.

A year later, the DA’s Office proudly announced that after being stolen during the revolution in 2011, the coffin of Nedjemankh was finally returning home to Egypt. Scorned criminals, ancient art, and the social event of the season.

[From Anne Helen Petersen’s Interview with Matthew Bogdanos, the head of the New York Antiquities Theft Task Force: ]

“We in law enforcement have extraordinary powers, we have extraordinary authority. And we should be transparent in the use of that authority. People should understand, this is what we do and this is what we don’t do. Say you have a piece in your collection from 1920, and it was probably from some area that was colonized. And you know, maybe on some moral plane, it should be returned. Well, that’s interesting; none of my business. None of my business. I don’t have the legal mandate. I don’t have the legal authority. Do I have a personal opinion about whether the Parthenon sculptures that were taken by Lord Elgin belong in Russell Square or whether they belong in Athens? Of course, I have a personal opinion. Is it a legal question? Absolutely not. Is it a criminal question? Absolutely not. He did it in the 1820s. 

“So we like people dispelling the mythology. I’m not out to denude every single museum of its treasures, just the stolen ones!” — Culture Study Guest Interviews