Tag Archives: Doris Wiener Gallery

UPDATED > Help Wanted: We’re Tracking Down Objects Sold By Nancy and Doris Wiener

In the wake of the arrest of the Manhattan antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener, we’re teaming up with our friends at the India Pride Project to track down the ancient objects she and her mother Doris Wiener sold to museums and private collectors around the world. And we need your help.

nancy-wienerProsecutors allege the two conspired for decades with a network of smugglers and middlemen to obtain looted and stolen antiquities from across Asia. Many of those objects passed through auction houses before being purchased by museums and private collectors. (See our earlier coverage here.)

Where are these objects today? Where did they come from? And how many of them have a documented ownership history that stands up to scrutiny?

To answer those questions, we want your help searching Asian art collections around the globe for objects tied to the Wieners. As we find them, we’ll post them here, examine their ownership histories and, with IPP’s help, try to identify where they may have come from.

Here’s how you can chip in:

  1. Search the online archives of major Asian art collections around the world for objects tied to Nancy or Doris Wieners or their galleries. For collections that don’t have comprehensive online catalogs, contact the institution and politely ask for information on any objects acquired or donated by either of the Wieners.
  2. When you find an object, post a link to it in the comments below along with the object’s stated ownership history (if any is provided). Or email me at chasingaphrodite@gmail.com. We’ll credit you with the find unless you prefer to remain anonymous. Anonymous tips are also welcome, especially when they come with documents. We’re serious about protecting the identity of sources.
  3. As we find Wiener objects, we’ll add them to a list below along with suggestions for additional research steps.

FINDINGS

UPDATED 2/5/17: In our first month, readers have found dozens of objects tied to Nancy and Doris Wiener at museums around the world. Several require additional research.

The Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Freer and Sackler Gallery have both reached out to share ownership histories of Wiener objects in their collections.

 

Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Gallery

Keri Douglas (@keridouglas) identified three objects at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries tied to Doris Wiener. Of particular note is this Chola bronze (F2003.2) from Tamil Nadu, India, the source of hundreds of looted objects identified in the case against Subhash Kapoor, who did business with the Wieners.fs-f2003-2_001

UPDATE 1/31/17: The Freer and Sackler’s head of collections management Elizabeth Duly reached out to say the museum has posted provenance details for the four objects on its Provenance Research page. We’re grateful for the museum’s openness.

The ownership history for the Chola bronze has several red flags. It includes an invoice stating that Doris Wiener bought the object from Rajrama Art Galleries in London in March 1973, six months after India passed its national patrimony law in September 1972.

Wiener claimed in a 1995 letter to then curator Vidya Dehejia that she had actually purchased the bronze months earlier and that it was seen in 1973 by Indian art authority Pratapaditya Pal. It’s unclear what motivated the letter. The story suggests that Wiener held the valuable bronze for 29 years – without publication or sale – before selling it to the Smithsonian in 2002.

We asked Vijay Kumar, an expert on South Indian art and smuggling networks who has consulted for U.S. law enforcement, to review the museum’s posting. “The given paperwork is straightaway problematic since the bronze has no provenance pre 1972 and no information on how it reached London pre 1972,” Kumar wrote. As for the 1995 letter, “There is no apparent reason for this explanation but an attempt to push the objects acquisition back by a year.”

Observing the patina, Kumar noted the condition of the bronze – especially the holes in the reverse and on the base pedestal – suggest it may have come from a buried hoard rather than an active temple.

“India should stake its claim for this bronze purely on the basis of no documented provenance pre 1973 and also take the official statements of the celebrated scholars in this case,” Kumar concluded.

Given the Wieners have been accused of fabricating ownership histories for decades, we agree it would be wise to further investigate these claims.

Next steps: As a federal agency, the Smithsonian museums are subject to Freedom of Information Requests. We should request all documents related to the acquisition of these objects.

Boston Museum of Fine Art

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Female Khmer Deity

Victoria Reed, the curator of provenance at the Boston MFA, reached out pro-actively to share five objects the MFA acquired from Doris Wiener. They are:

Recumbent Bull (1988.434). 11th Century sandstone sculpture from Cambodia. Sold by Doris Wiener, Inc., New York, to the MFA. on October 26, 1988. No known provenance. No photo available.

Female Khmer Deity (1988.484). Doris Wiener apparently told museum the sculpture had been discovered near Wat Phu, Champasak Province, Laos and was first offered to a “Bangkok art collector” in early 1980s. Wiener sold it to the MFA on December 21, 1988.

Next step: Who is the “Bangkok art collector?” Might it be Douglas Latchford? Are there archival photos of objects at War Phu?

Shiva as Lord of Dance (1992.12) The sandstone sculpture from  Central-eastern Madhya Pradesh was acquired by Doris Wiener in 1991. She sold it to the MFA on February 26, 1992. The museum has no other provenance.

Next step: Stylistically, what sites in central-eastern Madhya Pradesh could this sculpture could be associated with? Were those sites documented during colonial times?

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-2-33-39-pm

 

Krishna Celebrates Holi (2002.901) Watercolor dating to 1750 – 60. Doris Wiener claimed to acquire the painting in 1972 and sold it to Paul F. Walter, New York; The painting was sold on November 14, 2002 at Sotheby’s, New York, lot 29, to the MFA.

Tibetan Avalokiteshvara (2003.339) According to a July 29, 2003 signed statement from art dealer Leonidas (Aleko) Goulandris, his gallery Arjuna Arts, Ltd. acquired the sculpture at Spink and Son, London, in 1967 and sold it to Doris Wiener in 2003. That same year, on September 17, Wiener sold it to the MFA.

Next step: Need someone to contact Goulandris to confirm the story and learn whether there is additional information about the sculpture’s origins prior to Spink and Son.

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Avalokiteshvara

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Reader Judith Gibson pointed us to this 10th century Durga Slaying the Buffalo at the Art Gallery New South Wales (163.1999). The Australian museum, currently run by former Getty director Michael Brand, says it is investigating the origins of the sculpture, which was acquired from Nancy Wiener, who claimed to have it since 1999. The Australian has reported that Wiener sold it to the museum in 1999 for $95,000 without any proof of prior ownership. Wiener did not respond to the newspapers inquiries.

Next step: Inquire with the museum what steps it is taking to investigate the Durga.

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Durga Slaying the Buffalo

Musee Guimet

800px-guimet_maitreya_ss-_i-ii_01 A confidential source pointed us to this Kushan Buddha at the Musee Guimet in Paris. The source believes Doris Wiener may have sold the sculpture, which is strikingly similar to Kushan Buddhas her daughter Nancy sold with false provenance to the National Gallery of Australia and Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum. As the criminal complaint detailed, these Seated Buddhas were allegedly stolen by the notorious convicted idol thief Vaman Ghiya.

Next steps: Someone, preferably a French speaker, needs to contact the Guimet and politely inquire about the Guimet Buddha’s provenance. We should also ask for details on any other objects acquired from the Wieners.

 

 

 

ADDITIONAL LEADS 

Here are some more leads to follow…

Museums

On her website, Nancy Wiener boasts of selling Asian art to museums around the world, including:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Asia Society

The Los Angeles County Museum

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Nelson-Atkins Museum

The Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore

Doris Wiener, who started dealing Asian art in the 1960s, is said to have sold objects to:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art

The Norton Simon Museum

Asia Society

The Brooklyn Museum

This is obviously an incomplete list, so other museums with Asian art collections should also be searched or contacted. Don’t forget about University museums and collections.

As a starting point, try the museum’s online collection records, which can often be searched by ownership history. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collection shows 10 objects tied to Doris Wiener and 6 objects associated with Nancy Wiener. (We’ll contact the Met about those and post their response.)

For museums that don’t have complete provenance information online, which is most, please contact the museum and politely request a complete list of objects from the Wieners, along with all available provenance information for those objects. You may have to be persistent – this is information should be readily available to the public, but many museums are reluctant to release it. It may be helpful to note the antiquities policy of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which states:

AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence in the acquisition process, in particular in the research of proposed acquisitions, transparency in the policy applicable to acquisitions generally, and full and prompt disclosure following acquisition.

Museums that seek to be transparent and proactive should post all of their Wiener objects – with a complete ownership history – on their Provenance pages, as the National Gallery of Australia did (belatedly) in response to the Kapoor investigation. This is a clear signal of an institution’s good faith.

Auction Houses

Most major auction houses have online searchable sales archives that include some (but sadly not all) provenance information. Look for any objects that passed through the Nancy or Doris Wiener.

Once you find them, we’ll have to track down where they are today. Some creative Google searching can often work, as can reverse image searches on Google images or TinEye.

There’s also the Doris Wiener Collection. When Doris Wiener died in 2011, Christie’s sold a collection of 380 her objects. The criminal complaint against Nancy Wiener describes how many of those objects came through Asian smuggling networks.

Where are they today? Some were likely acquired by museums, while others were probably purchased by private collectors. Unless Christie’s releases this information, some sleuthing (or tipsters) will be required to track them down.

Like museums, auction houses who have done business with the Wieners should be proactive and transparent by posting complete information on objects they’ve sold tied to the Wieners. This will send a clear signal to the public that they’re not interested in protecting art traffickers.

Private Collectors

Doris Wiener is said to have sold antiquities to leading collectors, including John D. Rockefeller III, Igor Stravinsky and Jacqueline Kennedy. Nancy Wiener also sold to prominent private collectors.

What came of those collections? Where are those objects today? Private collections are difficult to search unless they’ve been published in a catalog or loaned to a museum or gallery show.

Some private collectors may want to come forward in good faith, and we should encourage them. If you own an object sold by Nancy or Doris Wiener – or know someone who does – email me here and share what you can. We may be help to help you assess its origins.

Dealer Catalogs

Many galleries publish sales catalogs of their inventory. Did Doris or Nancy Wiener? Can we track them down?

The Nancy Wiener Gallery’s website has posted images of objects she was selling over the years. The Internet Archive can be used to search it back to 2011: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.nancywiener.com

Happy hunting!

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UPDATED > Asia Week Arrest: Japanese Dealer Convicted Of Selling Stolen Art

Japanese antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku was arrested at Asia Week and charged on March 14th with criminal possession of a looted 2nd Century Buddhapada sculpture valued at more than $1 million, court records show.

UPDATE: On March 24, Kaku plead guilty to criminal possession of stolen property in exchange for a $5,000 fine and a sentence of time-served. Prosecutors explained the light sentence by saying Kaku had cooperated with on-going investigations. “This is part of a larger, ongoing investigation and there were cases where Mr . Kaku actually provided information,” Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos told the court.

Buddhapada - Footprints of Buddha

An image of the seized Buddhapada released by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office

Kaku, who owns Taiyo Ltd. in Tokyo, consigned the Kushan-period sculpture of the Buddha’s footprints to the Maitreya Inc. for sale at Asia Week.

Maitreya is owned by antiquities dealer Nayef Homzi, a prominent Manhattan dealer in Asian art who was previously director of the Doris Wiener Gallery, owned by the mother of Nancy Wiener, whose gallery was also raided this week. Homzi was the target of a federal investigation at last year’s Asia Week after he was caught trying to sell looted Indian sculptures valued at more than $500,000.

In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said, “The theft of antiquities has to be treated as the serious criminal matter it is. Our objective in these cases is to return the stolen item to the country where it was plundered from, and deter others from engaging in the illegal trade of cultural heritage.”

kaku

Japanese antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku

The story of the Buddhapada starts in 1982 in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, when Kaku purchased the sculpture directly from smugglers, court records state. “When I saw the Buddhapada for the first time in Pakistan in 1982 they didn’t allow me to take photographs,” Kaku states in emails cited in the criminal complaint. “They didn’t tell me the exact place [where it was found.] As can be understood by the color of the stone, is an archaeological find from Swat.”

 

Kaku told authorities after his arrest this week that he knew it was illegal to purchase such material at the time, court records state. In 1975, Pakistan enacted the Antiquities Act, which bars the export of antiquities without state permission.

The sculpture was smuggled to Japan and sold to a private collector there. “After the collector passed away I sold it to Alexander Gotz in London in 2001. I bought it back from him in 2003 and sold it to another Japanese collector. In 2012 on request of the family of the collector who has gone on in years, the item has been entrusted with me…,” Kaku wrote in an email send in December 2015.

Kaku arranged to have the object shipped to New York City for its sale during Asia Week. He told authorities that he “knew it was illegal but that he loved antiquities so much and hated to see them destroyed,” court records state.

The sculpture was seized by authorities on March 14 and will be returned to Pakistan. Kaku was arraigned on March 14 and will next appear in a Manhattan court on March 25th.

At his March 24 sentencing, Kaku told the court through a translator that he believed was saving the looted objects he sold: “While I did stand to gain financially from the prospective sale of the Buddhapada, I was equally motivated by a life-long desire to preserve for posterity such works, which, if they were to remain in Pakistan, would, I believe, at best fall into disrepair and at worst be destroyed,” he said. “I now know, however, that it is not the right of any individual or institution to decide how the cultural patrimony of another country should be handled.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. had a different take on the case.

“Every year, fine art collectors from around the world flock to New York for Asia Week, where they spent a reported $360 million last year on Asian antiquities and art,” said  Vance. “With high demand from all corners of the globe, collectors must be certain of provenance before purchasing. I urge dealers and auction houses to take every necessary precaution to avoid facilitating the sale of cultural heritage stolen from other civilizations. If a provenance is in doubt, report it to law enforcement authorities.”