Tag Archives: Freer and Sackler Galleries

UPDATED: Kapoor’s Footprints: 240 Objects from Alleged Antiquities Trafficker Traced to Museums Around the Globe

[UPDATED 8/27 with details from SF Asian.]

We’ve begun hearing back from museums that did business with Subhash Kapoor, the New York antiquities dealer under arrest in India for trafficking in looted antiquities.

For those just catching up with the Kapoor story: The dealer, an American citizen of Indian extraction, has operated Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue since 1974. He was arrested in Germany last year and was recently extradicted to India, where he is alleged to have been the mastermind behind a network of temple looters operating in Tamil Nadu.

Authorities there have also accused Kapoor of trafficking in looted antiquities from other parts of India, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Federal authorities in the United States have also issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor and seized more than $30 million worth of allegedly stolen antiquities from Kapoor’s Manhattan storage facilities in recent months.

Kapoor has done business with leading museums around the world. Indian authorities have said that Kapoor worked with his brother Ramesh Kapoor, who runs Kapoor Galleries in New York. Kapoor Galleries was not raided by federal authorities, and to our knowledge Remesh has not been charged with a crime.

Here are the 236 Kapoor objects we and others have tracked down so far:

LACMA 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired 62 objects from Kapoor. Twenty-eight were purchased from Kapoor or his Manhattan gallery Art of the Past between 1989 and 2007. Another 33 were donated by Kapoor between 1978 and 2000. We’ve posted the complete list here.

Twenty-nine of the objects are ancient. All but 8 of them belong to a single hoard of ancient figurines from Madhya Pradesh, in central India.

Two other antiquities are terracotta pieces from the 3rd and 2nd Century BC from Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh. A third is a copper sculture of Mayadevi from Uttar Pradesh, circa 100 AD.

Elephant with Riders, 3rd-2nd century B.C.

Another 18 objects at LACMA were acquired from Kapoor’s brother Ramesh, who Indian authorities say worked with his brother Subhash to import looted antiquities illegally removed from India.

LACMA acknowledges it has no documented ownership history for any of the ancient objects. “We’re re-examining all these items in the light of the recent news,” said museum spokeswoman Miranda Carroll.

BOSTON MFA

The Boston MFA has just one object fr0m Kapoor – a page from a 17th century illustrated manuscript, The Jealous Older Woman and the More Impetuous Younger Woman. It was  purchased in 1995 from Art of the Past. Kapoor bought it at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1994, and was privately owned prior to being sold at auction, museum records show. The MFA also purchased two 17th century works from Kapoor Gallery.

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

The Art Institute has two objects purchase from Kapoor.  “We are in the process of confirming the provenance information and will take appropriate steps when we have completed this review,” said museum spokeswoman Erin Hogan. We’ve requested information about the objects — the museum’s online collection database does not allow for searching by provenance.

ASIAN ART MUSEUM of SAN FRANCISCO

Museum spokesman Tim Hallman said, “We have not been contacted by any officials investigating Mr. Kapoor’s dealings. However, when news broke of the investigation, the museum’s director instructed our chief curator to review the collection records to determine if we obtained items from Mr. Kapoor. We are still reviewing the files (our holdings include more than 18,000 artworks).” We’ll post the list of objects when we get it.

UPDATE: Hallman got back to us with details. The Asian Art Museum acquired four objects from Kapoor, including a 14th century statue of the Hindu deity Shiva in the fierce form of Bhairava (above), said to be from Karnataka, the Indian state west of Tamil Nadu where Kapoor is being held for trial. The Asian purchased the statue from Kapoor in 2000. “We have have carefully reviewed our records for each object and have not found any information to suggest that that any of these four art objects were acquired or imported illegally,” Hallman said in an email. The complete list of Kapoor objects at the SF Asian can be found here.

TOLEDO MUSEUM

The Toledo Museum continues to ignore our requests for information about objects they acquired from Kapoor and several other dealers tied to the illicit trade. The New York Times reported that Toledo acquired 44 terracotta antiquities from Kapoor in 2007. The museum’s website appears to offer  information about just one of those objects. It is hard to fathom how a museum whose considerable assets are exempt from taxes because they operate “in the public interest” can refuse to answer the public’s questions about objects in its collection. Only Princeton University Art Museum has shown a similar disdain for the public’s right to know.

THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

As we reported last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired 81 objects from Kapoor, four of which are antiquities that have no documented ownership history. For reasons that remain unclear, the museum also knowingly acquired five forgeries from Kapoor in 1991 for the museum’s study collection. Many of the Met’s other Kapoor objects are drawings from the 17th, 18th or 19th century highlighted in the museum’s 2009 exhibit, Living Line: Selected Indian Drawings From the Subhash Kapoor Gift.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, AUSTRALIA

The NGA has acknowledged buying 21 objects from Kapoor, including a bronze Dancing Shiva said to be tied to the Kapoor investigation. That news has set off a wave of press reports in Australia about the case. The museum claims to have followed a “thorough due diligence process” and contacted Indian authorities this week to offer its cooperation in the investigation.

UPDATE: The museum released a statement saying, “The Gallery has commenced plans to undertake a comprehensive re-examination by a panel of internal and external art experts of the supplied documentation as well as the provenance of work acquired from Mr Kapoor, as many international Galleries are also doing. The Gallery is liaising closely with the Indian High Commission in Canberra to ensure that the internationally accepted protocols for dealing with such issues are followed.” The NGA has not yet released details about the provenance of the Shiva or other Kapoor objects.

SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS

The Freer and Sackler Galleries told the New York Times that the only object they had acquired from Kapoor was a 20th century Indian necklace.

UPDATE: David Gill notes The Sackler has issued a statement saying it is investigating several objects purchase from Kapoor Galleries, controlled by Subhash Kapoor’s brother. The objects include a marble bracket figure, India, 13th c. (purchased in 1995); a seated figure of Jambala, Tibet, bronze, 13th c. (purchased in 1996); a Gautama Buddha, Tibet, gilt copper, 14th c. (purchased 1997); and a pair of lamps of fortune, India, bronze, 17th c. (purchased in 2000). The statement notes that The Freer|Sackler “were among the first U.S. museums to adopt the UNESCO convention of 1970, which forbids the acquisition or display of works illegally removed from their nation of origin after 1970.”

Art Gallery of New South Wales

The Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased six objects from Kapoor, Australian media reported. Former Getty Museum director Michael Brand, who took the helm of the Australian museum in June, said, “No-one has made any suggestions that the works in our collection or stolen or that there are any issues about those works. Should someone come to us and say that there is reason to believe then we would obviously collaborate in any way we can.” Among the objects at the museum are this one, highlighted by David Gill.

WANTED IDOLS

The website of website of the Tamil Nadu police has additional information about the Kapoor investigation, along with photos of missing idols. Where are these idols now? The NGA’s Shiva appears superficially similar to one of the Dancing Shiva’s shown there.

Kapoor’s Alleged Accomplices: Indian authorities are looking for two of Kapoor’s alleged accomplices, The Times of India reports. [A QUOTE FROM THE ARTICLE HAS BEEN REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING NEIL PERRY-SMITH.] Paul Barford does some digging into the alleged accomplices are finds some intriguing clues. [UPDATE: BARFORD’S POST HAS BEEN REMOVED.]

Have you tracked down other Kapoor antiquities? If so, send us the details and we’ll credit you with the find: chasingaphrodite@gmail.com

Kapoor Case: Investigation into Stolen Indian Idols Will Test Museum Transparency

Subhash Kapoor

The investigation of antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, which made international headlines this week when federal agents raided his Manhattan warehouse, promises to shine a bright light on the illicit trade in antiquities smuggled out of India and other South Asian countries — and the dealer’s ties to prominent museums around the world.

New York authorities issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor, the longtime owner of Madison Avenue gallery Art of the Past, the same day that agents with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement seized what they said were $20 million worth of stolen Indian artifacts from his Manhattan storage facilities. The seized objects include three Chola period statues that investigators say match objects in Interpol’s database of stolen works of art. Some objects were imported into the U.S. labelled “Marble Garden Table Sets.” An additional $10 million in antiquities were quietly seized from Kapoor in January of this year.

The seized objects are likely the tip of the iceberg of the dealer’s inventory. Since 1974, Kapoor has traded in ancient art from India, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world, as well as more recent art from India. A sample of his recent inventory can been seen in this 2011 catalog for Art of the Past.

Kapoor’s legal troubles extend far beyond New York. He was detained in Germany in October 2011 and this month extradited to Chennai, India, where he is facing criminal charges of being the mastermind of an idol smuggling ring that plundered ancient temples in Tamil Nadu. Kapoor has reportedly admitted to Indian police that he earned more than $11 million through the transport and sale of plundered Indian antiquities with his daughter and brother through a US corporation called Nimbus International.

Kapoor’s New York attorney Christopher Kane did not return a call to his cell phone on Sunday, but told the New York Post that Kapoor ““thinks of himself as a legitimate businessman, and I have no reason to think he’s not.” We’ll post any response we receive here.

As Kapoor’s legal case plays out in India, the spotlight now turns to the dozens of museums and collectors who did business with the dealer. Kapoor boasts in his bio that he has sold antiquities to a long list of leading museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco; The Art Institute, Chicago; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Musée des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris; Museum fűr Indische Kunst, Berlin; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; and the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

Investigators have tied a Dancing Shiva at Australia’s National Gallery to Kapoor, the New York Post reported.

In a press release, American investigators asked Kapoor’s clients to check their collections and be in touch. “Some of the artifacts seized during this investigation — which are stolen — have been displayed in major international museums worldwide,” ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations team said in a press release. “Other pieces that match those listed as stolen are still openly on display in some museums. HSI will aggressively pursue the illicit pieces not yet recovered.”

The press, however, is not waiting for museums to come clean. The New York Times queried several museums last week about Kapoor objects in their collections. And on Saturday, The New York Post reported that a statue of Shiva as the Lord of Dance at the National Gallery of Australia has been tied to the investigation.

Not all museums that did business with Kapoor will be in trouble, of course. The Freer-Sackler Gallery, for example, told the New York Times that the only object they had acquired from Kapoor was a 20th century Indian necklace. The two objects in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’s online catalog linked to Kapoor Galleries, operated by Kapoor’s brother Ramesh, are 17th century Indian paintings.

The Met’s response to the Kapoor investigation has been rather cavalier. Despite the admonition from the federal authorities, the museum will not review its Kapoor antiquities, Holzer told the Times, noting that the collection had long been posted on the Met’s website. One might think that recent history would have taught Met officials time and again that open possession of allegedly stolen property is no protection from claims both legal and moral.

The Met tried to deflect the questions from the press, telling the NY Times that most of the 81 pieces they had acquired from Kapoor were drawings from the 17th, 18th or 19th century highlighted in the 2009 Met exhibit, Living Line: Selected Indian Drawings From the Subhash Kapoor Gift. “They do not appear to be the type of items that they are worried about,” said museum spokesman Harold Holzer.

But a search of the Met’s online catalog reveals several antiquities from Kapoor that authorities likely will be interested in — none have documented ownership histories dating to 1972, when India began controlling exports of ancient art.

1st Century BC ceramic Bengal pot (2003 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

1st Century BC Bengal Vessel (2001 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

The God Revanta Returning from a Hunt (2003 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

Yakshi Holding a Crowned Child (2002 Gift of Subhash Kapoor)

Curiously, the Met also has five stone sculptures from Kapoor in its study collection, here and here, for example. They resemble ancient pieces but are labeled by the museum as “20th Century.” All were acquired in 1991. Did the museum acquire these objects from Kapoor, only to discover they were modern forgeries? We’ve asked Holzer for more information.

UPDATE: Harold Holzer tells us, “The group of 20th-century forgeries was accepted as a gift along with the other Kapoor gifts for our study collection, and always identified as such.”

To be fair to the Met, their online collection is far more transparent than that of several other American museums tied to Kapoor. The Toledo Museum of Art told the NY Times that it had received a gift of 44 terracotta antiquities from Kapoor in 2007. The only object that appears in a search of the museum’s online collection is a terracotta vessel purchased in 2008. The museum published the object in 2009 in a book of the museum’s masterworks, but offers no ownership history other than saying it was created in Chandraketugarh, an archaeological site north-east of Kolkata. Where was it before Toledo? What are the ownership histories for the other 43 objects acquired from Kapoor?

We’ve asked the Toledo Museum for that information, but apparently such requests are a low priority there. More than a month ago, we requested information about objects in their collection tied to two other dealers who investigators have connected to the illicit trade — Edoardo Almagia and Gianfranco Becchina. We have still not received a response.

Several years ago, the Getty Museum took a similar stance when faced with questions about objects in their collection. Stonewalling only convinced the public of the museum’s bad faith, and fueled the zeal of investigations by foreign governments and the media. Museums would be smart to heed those lessons from the Getty case, lest they relive the consequences.

Like the Almagia investigation, the Kapoor case will be a test for how transparent American museums can be in the face of unpleasant questions about ancient art in their collections. Will they take a proactive approach to investigating their collections, as they have done with objects with unclear provenance from World War II era? Or will they stonewall and encourage others to do the investigation for them?

Hat-Tips: Several people have been covering the Kapoor case for months, and you should read their detailed coverage. The Indian press, especially the Times of India, has been covering the case for months. Damien Huffer, whose excellent blog It Surfaced Down Under tracks the illicit antiquities trade in the Southern Hemisphere, was one of the first to pick up the story, a distinction that earned him repeated legal threats. Paul Barford’s blog has also diligently tracked reports on the case, adding his salty commentary along the way. Most recently, The New York Post broke the news of the Manhattan raids last week and has followed-up with some additional scoops.

UPDATE: Attorney Rick St. Hiliare has some very interesting thoughts on what the Kapoor case reveals about antiquities smuggling networks: “Examining the import and export methods surrounding the Kapoor case not only can aid police in the United States and India in their current investigations targeting the alleged idol thief, but it can help policymakers, criminologists, and scholars think about better ways to detect, uncover, interdict, and prosecute future crimes of heritage trafficking.” Hilaire also offers excellent analysis of the bills of lading allegedly used by Kapoor’s enterprises, revealing how these objects were able to enter the U.S. under false premises. He goes on to say the case might give a boost to our WikiLoot project, which is designed to suss out these very matters. Worth reading his entire post.