Art Art History

How Kim Kardashian Unexpectedly Helped Return Stolen Artifacts—Twice

Kim Kardashian Egyptian coffin
Image courtesy of Landon Nordeman.

This is Art History, your weekly primer on the art world’s salacious past. From heists to heartbreaks, CULTURED brings you the most scandalous stories from the history books, guaranteed to dazzle your dinner companions.

Reality TV star, businesswoman, lawyer, mother, and...champion of looted artifacts...what can’t Kim Kardashian do? Twice now (that we know of), she's been the catalyst for the return of ancient artifacts to their rightful homelands. 

The first occasion arose at the 2018 Met Gala in New York, where the star arrived glittering like the sun itself in a gold Versace gown. With her hair slicked back and eyes smoky, she looked just like the coffin of Nedjemankh, then on view in its eponymous exhibition at the museum. To mark the "twinning" moment, Kardashian posed for a photo beside the ancient Egyptian artifact, which was coated in gold with an enviable kohl-lined eye and, as it turns out, stolen.

Unfortunately for the museum, who acquired the artifact the year prior for $4 million, Kardashian’s visage was high-profile enough to reach investigators that were hunting down the lost item. Nedjemankh’s burial was looted during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, during which the coffin was smuggled into the United Arab Emirates before heading to Germany, where the manager of Hamburg’s Dionysos Gallery Roben Dib furnished it with fake credentials. Reportedly, French antiquities dealers later passed it onto the Met.

Kim Kardashian Coffin
Image courtesy of Reuters.

Then came Kardashian. Her photo reached the eyes of one of the original theives who had evidently not been properly compensated for his part in disturbing sacred burial grounds. In a bid for revenge, it was sent to Manhattan's head of the district attorney’s antiquities-trafficking unit, Matthew Bogdanos, whose five-year search had come to an end. Dib was arrested, and the Met had to bid Nedjemankh adieu as it headed back to Cairo.

Only a few years later, Kardashian put her unexpected talents back to work when she helped the Italian government reclaim an ancient Roman sculpture. The Fragment of Myron’s Samian Athena from 1st - 2nd century A.D. depicts a woman from the waist down. Even without its upper half, the statue is still considered very important, which is why it was detained at the U.S. border in 2016 when it was found with the wrong documentation. The name on her receipt? Kardashian!

The shapewear guru allegedly bought the piece from ​​Axel Vervoordt's gallery in Belgium, the designer and art dealer behind her monochromatic Calabasas mansion. The statue arrived in LA on a five-and-a-half ton shipment of antiques and furniture, but its contradictory documentation raised alarm bells when inspected. Shortly after, it was seized. Vervoordt Gallery claimed it had purchased the work from Galerie Chenel in Paris in 2012, but the Italian task force for the protection of cultural heritage bit back saying it had seen the statue at Vervoordt’s TEFAF booth in Maastricht in 2011. Chenel then clarified that it had been on loan, swearing it purchased the piece legally at Hampel Auction house in 2010.

In 2018, an archeologist from Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage identified the half lady as a copy of an original Greek sculpture from the early to mid-Roman Empire. It was also determined that the piece had never been issued an export license from Italy and was therefore certainly “looted, smuggled, and illegally exported.” By 2021, the U.S. government formally called for its repatriation to Rome. The same year, Kardashian claimed she "never purchased this piece" and that it was "the first that she learned of its existence."

Alas, here's to number three.