Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Saga Continues...

New revelations have surfaced, reported in The Australian (related, older news here), that the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra does indeed possess one of the most high profile artifacts of those known to have been purchased from extradited antiquities dealer Subash Kapoor; a "dancing Shiva" statue worth approximately US $2 million on the open market (photo at left). It is suggested that this item was in fact stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu state in 2008 and immediately snapped up by Kapoor before being bought apparently no questions asked by the gallery.

The other 20 items purchased from Kapoor that remain in the NGA's collections are alleged to have had sufficient due diligence and ownership history documentation provided demonstrating their exportation pre-1970...and yet an "investigative committee" has been established, the items remain unidentified to the public, and the gallery's director stated in a Senate hearing that they "were cooperating with authorities" and "needed to be as careful as possible." This stance is commendable and understandable, especially given direct evidence for previous high-profile oversights. All eyes are now upon them to see how this compliance plays out and what further investigation turns up.

UPDATE: According to my esteemed colleagues over at Chasing Aphrodite, the NGA seems likely to soon have alot more explaining to do...

UPDATE #2: New reporting in The Australian has revealed that $5.1 million was paid for this statue by the NGA, not $2 million, making this one of the most expensive art or antiquities deal done in Australia. A victim of fraud? Hmmmm...

UPDATE #3: The latest article in The Australian details how continuing revelations of high profile Australian museums and art galleries active and knowing participation in the South Asian antiquities trade via Kapoor have finally caused the Chair of the Australian Association of Art Museum Directors (one Mr. Tony Ellwood) to "place this issue on our next agenda." Let us hope this is carried out and that new accession guidelines for antiquities will be drawn up on par with those in the US and, importantly, made public and actually enforced!

I am quoted in the article and I stand behind my statements, but in retrospect, credit must always be given to investigators of the Tamil Nadu police department's Idol Wing for first alerting the world of some of these thefts. As well, I would more appropriately refer to Kapoor as the "Medici of South Asia" or just "Asia." All in all, these are minor points. All of us now eagerly await more revelations. I will continue to help uncover this "iceberg" as much as possible.

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