Art law Museums Antiquities and Archaeology Australia

Museums take action over works looted from India

In advance of next week’s trial against Subhash Kapoor, public collections start to deal with the objects they bought through the New York antiquities dealer

Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), at the National Gallery of Australia

The National Gallery of Australia’s (NGA) bronze sculpture of Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), a highlight of its Asian art displays, could be returning to India sooner rather than later. An India court has asked for the restitution of the 11th- to 12th-century Chola dynasty statue of the Hindu god, The Australian newspaper reports.

In an unusual move for a museum that has purchased an object in good faith that later turned out to be looted, the NGA filed a $5m lawsuit on 6 February against the New York gallery Art of the Past and its owner Subhash Kapoor for alleged fraud. In an earlier press statement, Ron Radford, the director of the NGA, said that the institution is discussing “avenues for restitution” with the Indian High Commission.

Meanwhile, the Toledo Museum in Ohio is also in contact with Indian authorities, seeking information about the 64 objects it acquired from Kapoor from 2001 to 2010. The museum is one of several worldwide that purchased art from South and Southeast Asia over the past three decades, or accepted them as gifts from Kapoor. Not all of the items were antiquities, however.

Kapoor, an Indian-born, American citizen, is being held in a jail in Chennai (formerly Madras) awaiting trial, which is due to start on 7 March. He was charged with smuggling antiquities in 2012. There is a warrant for his arrest in the US on charges of possessing stolen property. He denies both charges.

In a New York court last December, the office manager of Art of the Past, Aaron Freedman, pleaded guilty to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property. The NGA’s Shiva was among the items listed as illegally exported from India.

Also in New York last December, Kapoor’s associate Selina Mohamed, was charged with possessing stolen property and fabricating the provenance of antiquities, a charge she denies.

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26 Feb 14
18:57 CET


As an Australian artist I am appalled and ashamed at the actions of the National Gallery of Australia in this case. They appear now to be doing the right thing but in reality the NGA stonewalled at every turn over this issue. The Shiva is just one of around 18 works that the NGA purchased from Kapoor, some even after he was clearly under investigation. The NGA deliberately mislead the public over the actual price paid now over $6 million Australian is wasted as the piece is to restituted. That is money that could have supported work by living Australian artists who are clearly struggling. Australia art is going through moral convulsions over the funding go the Biennale of Sydney and it's major sponsors profiteering from the human suffering in detention centres on Manus Island. Former NGA Director Betty Churcher has come out saying she purposefully didn't buy Indian artefacts because they could be looted but Ron Radford went full steam ahead. Very sad.

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