Tag Archives: Kushan Buddha

The End of the Beginning: NGA Returns Kushan Buddha and Two Kapoor Objects

csts_bzusaa0vyo

On Monday, the National Gallery of Australia returned three more antiquities to India in light of evidence – much of it first made public here – that they had been stolen from temples or archaeological sites, smuggled out of India and sold with false ownership histories by dealers now under criminal investigation.

In a ceremony in the Canberra museum’s Asian Gallery, the Australian Arts Minister Mitch Fifield handed over to his Indian counterpart Mahesh Sharma two sculptures purchased from the disgraced Manhattan antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently standing trial in Chennai, India for his role as the alleged mastermind of an international smuggling ring.

A third sculpture, a Kushan-era sculpture of the Seated Buddha purchased from Manhattan antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener and once a centerpiece of the Australian collection, is being quietly returned out of the public eye. We first revealed the sculpture’s false ownership history in February 2015 and wrote about it in The Australian with arts reporter Michaela Boland.

The three sculptures join the museum’s Dancing Shiva, an Ardhanarishvara from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and other objects returned in recent years, the results of a looting controversy that has shaken Australia’s museums and raised far-reaching questions about their collecting practices. Some 280 additional antiquities at the NGA alone have been identified as having a clouded ownership history by an unprecedented provenance review that is on-going.

The Australian returns underscore the growing risks faced by museums and collectors who purchased Asian antiquities in recent decades from what they believed to be respectable dealers and auction houses. As we’ve chronicled here since 2012, on-going criminal investigations by authorities in the United States, India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Thailand and beyond have slowly unraveled the transnational smuggling networks that supplied those dealers.

Sources hint that the sweeping consequences of those investigations will soon become far clearer. Monday’s Australian returns, therefore, are best understood as the end of the beginning phase of those investigations, not the end.

Kushan Buddha

NGA Seated BuddhaThe Kushan sculpture of a Seated Buddha was likely returned out of the public eye on Monday because it no longer belongs to the museum. In March 2015, the museum announced that it had returned it for a refund to Nancy Wiener, the New York  owner of the Wiener Gallery who sold the statue in 2007 for $1.08 million. Wiener, in turn, agreed to “donate” it to India.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 7.13.35 PM

 

At the time of the sale, Wiener said the sculpture had belonged to an Englishman named Ian Donaldson, who claimed to have purchased it while posted in Hong Kong between 1964 and 1966. She provided the museum with a 1985 Certificate of Ownership signed by Donaldson. It was the only record of sculpture’s ownership history, but the museum did not attempt to contact Donaldson. Instead, the NGA obtained a search certificate from the Art Loss Register saying the sculpture was not in its database of stolen objects. As we’ve noted in the past, such declarations are largely useless for antiquities, yet that was the extent of the due diligence the museum conducted.

I first raised questions about the Buddha in 2012, after a source contacted me suggesting the statue’s ownership history had been falsified.  The NGA eventually released documents supporting that claim and belatedly contacted the expert who had first authenticated the sculpture, Donald Stadtner. Stadtner raised further questions about the sculpture’s origins, claiming in an email to museum officials that British collector Douglas Latchford had boasted in a meeting that he had “found Nancy a provenance” for a related Kushan Buddha that Wiener sold to Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum. Through his attorneys, Latchford has denied ever meeting Stadtner.

The return of the NGA’s Seated Buddha will put increased pressure others to reveal the ownership history of similar objects. Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum has refused to disclose the provenance that Wiener provided for a very similar sculpture of a Seated Buddha.

ACM seated buddha

Wiener has displayed images of a third Kushan Buddha on her gallery’s website. The current location of that Buddha is not known. Wiener has not responded to repeated requests for comment in the past.

weiner-buddha

Another similar Buddha is on display at the Carlos Museum at Emory University. That Seated Buddha was acquired as a gift of the Nathan Rubin-Ida Ladd Family Foundation, which is known to have acquired objects from Kapoor.

carlos-seated-buddha

Kapoor Objects

The two other objects returned Monday are both from Subhash Kapoor and were linked to objects stolen from Indian temples by researcher Vijay Kumar of the Indian Pride Project.

In 2005, Kapoor sold both objects to the NGA for $1.5 million. One was an 1800-year-old limestone carving depicting a scene from the life of Buddha.

b8652fac07e4a2314495006b340b84d6

Kapoor told the museum the sculpture of the Buddha’s life had been in a private Japanese collection until 1999. But in July, we published this photo of the showing the unrestored sculpture as it appears in Kapoor’s archives, soon after it was stolen by thieves:

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 2.48.15 PM

The second Kapoor object due to be returned in the ceremony Monday was a 1000-year-old stone goddess Pratyangira, or Lion Lady. Kapoor claimed the sculpture had been in the collection of his onetime girlfriend Selina Mohamed since 1990. But as we first reported in July 2016, photos and records found in Kapoor’s files show the Pratyangira was in Mumbai, India in 2002.

Kumar has linked the object to Vriddhachlam, the same temple that the Art Gallery of New South Wales Shiva was taken from.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 2.53.48 PM

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 4.02.27 PM

Investigators believe Kapoor obtained the two objects from a Chennai art dealer named Deena Dayalan, who has operated an art gallery there since 1965 and is suspected of being a major player in the theft and smuggling of antiquities from the region. Indian authorities raided Dayalan’s properties in July and seized substantial evidence that may have led to Monday’s returns.

 

Advertisements

The Seated Buddha Goes Home: Nancy Wiener and National Gallery of Australia Will Return Sculpture to India

NGA Seated Buddha

The National Gallery of Australia announced Thursday that its prized second century Seated Buddha would be “donated” to India after the museum struck a deal for its return with Nancy Wiener, the New York gallery owner who sold the statue.

Under the deal, Wiener will reimburse the NGA the $1.080 million paid for the statue in 2007 and arrange for its return to India, the museum said in a statement.

The arrangement marks a rare case of a museum making good on a dealer’s good title guarantee at the time of sale.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 7.14.12 PM

I first raised questions about the Buddha in 2012, after an anonymous source contacted me suggesting the statue’s ownership history had been falsified. After the NGA released documents supporting that claim, the museum contacted the expert who had authenticated the sculpture, Donald Stadtner. Stadtner raised further questions about the sculpture’s origins, claiming in an email to museum officials that British collector Douglas Latchford had boasted in a meeting that he had “found Nancy a provenance” for a related Kushan Buddha that Wiener sold to Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum. Through his attorneys, Latchford has denied ever meeting Stadtner.

Douglas LatchfordThe National Gallery of Australia’s release does not resolve the questions about the sculpture’s provenance. “In 2007, the NGA regarded the information available about the sculpture as adequate at the time of its purchase with documented provenance outside India in 1964-66. As a result of new research undertaken by the NGA, particularly in light of the recently published Australian Government Guidelines for Collecting Cultural material, the NGA considers it unclear as to whether the work’s export from India complies with current Australian law. Given the passage of time, the NGA is of the view that further clarification on this issue is unlikely. Accordingly, the NGA and NWG have agreed that the best course is to donate the work to a museum or other cultural institution located in India.”

Nancy WienerWiener, who has not responded to requests for comment, stood behind the story she provided the museum in 2007, the statement said.  “While the [Nancy Wiener Gallery] affirms its confidence in the provenance of the Seated Buddha, it is dedicated to its relationship with the NGA. Therefore, the NWG has offered to refund the purchase price of the sculpture to the NGA, and to join with the NGA in donating the work to an appropriate Indian cultural institution. Both parties are now working collaboratively in the spirit of good will and with Indian officials to determine an appropriate destination in India for this great work.”

The Buddha’s return sets a new standard for Australian museums that goes far beyond any reforms adopted in the United States. Guidelines adopted by Australian museums in the wake of the Subhash Kapoor scandal require objects to have valid export licenses from their country of origin.

If that standard is applied retroactively, as it has been in the case of the Kushan Buddha, many more objects in Australian museums are likely to be sent home.