Photos featured in Architectural Digest stories on the homes of the billionaire Lindemann family offer clues to investigators struggling to reclaim lost cultural heritage and shed light on the secretive private antiquities trade.
The January 2021 issue of Architectural Digest featured a remodeled, $42 million San Francisco residence described as a Spanish Renaissance Revival palacio.
Owned by a billionaire’s daughter and her husband, the home is “theatrical” and has “been described, with good reason, as the most beautiful house in America,” the luxury magazine said.
Accompanying photos detailed its opulence — mirrored pilasters, walls paneled with white onyx, remarkable views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.
One particularly impressive image showed a two-story central courtyard with several empty pedestals off to one side. The pedestals weren’t actually empty, though: The photo had been altered. Another version of the same photo, discovered by reporters on the website of the home’s architect, shows ancient Khmer sculptures resting on the same pedestals.
The Cambodian government says those stone relics, depicting the heads of gods and demons, match a set that was looted years ago from one of the nation’s sacred sites.
It is not clear who modified the photo or for what reason, but experts interviewed for this story confirmed that the sculptures had been edited out of the magazine image.
The owners of the San Francisco mansion are lawyer and author Sloan Lindemann Barnett and her husband, Roger Barnett, an executive at a nutritional supplements company. The couple, who purchased the property through a limited liability company, did not respond to email and phone messages from reporters.
The Cambodian investigation into the family’s collection goes beyond one set of statues. The stone artifacts in the San Francisco home appear to have come from a larger collection of Khmer relics held by Lindemann Barnett’s billionaire parents, Frayda and the late George Lindemann.
The parents’ collection appeared in an earlier Architectural Digest spread, in 2008, described as “one of the greatest collections of Southeast Asian art in private hands.” Those photos show their Palm Beach, Florida home crowded with Khmer antiquities, many of which the Cambodian government suspects were looted. Two of them appear to match artifacts that rank among the country’s 10 most important stolen relics, the government says.
“Some of these statues are of enormous historical and cultural importance to Cambodia and should be repatriated as soon as possible,” said Phoeurng Sackona, the country’s minister of culture and fine arts, who is leading the nation’s efforts to reclaim thousands of lost artifacts.
“It’s not just art,” said Sopheap Meas, an archaeologist working with the Cambodian team. “We believe that each of these holds the souls of our ancestors.”
Agents from the antiquities unit at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have contacted the Lindemann family in recent years about its Khmer collection, and there is no indication that the family plans to return the statues, according to two people close to the efforts who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the work is ongoing.
The Lindemann family has not been accused of wrongdoing related to the artifacts. Frayda Lindemann did not respond to messages from reporters….