Fashion gets called out the most for its Photoshop fails: Airbrushed armpits, an added appendage, and awkwardly widened thigh gaps are just a few examples. But the latest retouching incident to gain attention involves the world of interior design — in this case, images of suspected stolen antiquities from Cambodia.
A recent Washington Post story examined the removal of Khmer relics from an Architectural Digest image of a San Francisco mansion. The missing works of art, according to Cambodian investigators, may be stolen relics and part of a larger collection that could include some of the country’s top 10 looted artifacts. As the investigators found, a courtyard image published online in December 2020 and in print in January 2021 from the residence of billionaires Sloan Lindemann Barnett and Roger Barnett was identical to one that appeared on architect Peter Marino’s website until July — except for the removal of the sculptures. The Cambodian government believes that the statues — which once belonged to Lindemann Barnett’s parents — were looted from a sacred site and wants them returned. After the Washington Post reached out to Marino for comment, the image was deleted from his website. An Architectural Digest spokesperson told the Post that the sculptures were airbrushed out due to “unresolved publication rights around select artworks.” (Condé Nast, Architectural Digest’s publisher, did not return Curbed’s requests for comment.)
The practice of digitally removing objects from interior images is common. Designers and architects ask photographers to remove light switches and furniture, change the scenery visible through the windows, and scrub text from books, among many other tweaks. People who let design magazines into their residences frequently request that certain valuables, personal items, or house numbers not appear due to privacy concerns. And publications will take out images of artworks that are owned by galleries, museums, or other cultural institutions. But in this case, the dispute seems to be less about publication rights than about contested ownership.
Cambodian investigators have been looking into the Lindemann family’s art collection for some time — even before learning of the retouched photo. The same statues appeared in a 2008 Architectural Digest story on the family’s $68.5 million Palm Beach house, which featured an estimated $40 million worth of Khmer antiquities. (The earlier article described the collection as “one of the greatest collections of Southeast Asian art in private hands.”) Two people working on the investigation told the Washington Post that it is ongoing, and while members of the Lindeman family have not been accused of wrongdoing, they reportedly don’t want to return the pieces to Cambodia.
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