Tag Archives: Spink & Son

The Crennan Report: The NGA’s Ex Post Facto Due Diligence Finds 22 “Questionable” Asian Antiquities

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In an unprecedented review of its Asian art collection, the National Gallery of Australia has determined that 22 of the 36 objects examined to date have “insufficient or questionable provenance documentation.”

Among the problematic objects are 14 that came from Manhattan dealer Subhash Kapoor’s Art of the Past, including the $5 million Dancing Shiva returned to India by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year and several others we’ve highlighted in previous reports. Also highlighted in the report is the museum’s Kushan Buddha, which our report last year revealed had been sold the museum with a false ownership history by Manhattan dealer Nancy Wiener. Wiener agreed to refund the $1.08 million purchase price, and the NGA will return the sculpture to India this year.

Eight other questionable objects came through Wiener and another Manhattan Asian art dealerCarlton Rochell; the Swiss dealer/collector George Ortiz; and auction houses Spink and Son and Christie’s, among other familiar names. We’ll detail those objects in a subsequent report.

The ex post facto review is part of the museum’s Asian Art Provenance Project, which in the wake of an international looting scandal aims to assess and publish the collecting histories of all 5,000 art objects in the museum’s collection. It was sparked in part by our series of reports starting in June 2013 that revealed several of the museum’s prized Asian antiquities had been looted from Indian temples and sold by Manhattan dealer Subhash Kapoor with false ownership histories.

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While years late, the Australian review goes beyond what American musuems undertook in the wake of similar looting scandals a decade ago, and sets an important new standard for due diligence: independent review and complete transparency with provenance.

 

Notably, the NGA asked an outside lawyer, Former Justice of the High Court of Australia Susan Crennan, to independently review and publish the project’s initial conclusions. In her 89-page report, Crennan reviews the relevant international laws and treaties before adopting a clear standard of review:

  1. does the object have a credible chain of ownership?
  2. the object was outside its probable country of origin before 1970, or was legally exported from that country after 1970?

For 22 of the objects, her answer was no.

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On several occasions she cited (without credit) images first published here showing NGA objects the in process of being smuggled out of India to Kapoor. “Dr [Michael] Brand, who supervised the [Getty’s return of 40 looted objects], stated that such photos were the most convincing pieces of circumstantial evidence of theft,” Crennan noted.

Sprinkled throughout her report is commentary that serves as common sense advice to those conducting their own due diligence:

  • “Circumstantial evidence can be as compelling as direct evidence, especially when several pieces of circumstantial evidence all support a particular conclusion.”
  • Due diligence should include “direct contact with any living consignor, or previous owner, particularly to elicit the date and circumstances of the export of a work from a country of origin. The absence of such details increases the risk that the [acquirer] will not obtain good title from a vendor.”
  • Even “reputable” dealers should be treated with skepticism, and the word of a dealer should not be taken as fact unless it can be independently corroborated.
  • Buyers should “require revelation of the identity of any consignor, or previous owners of a work of art (which can be conveyed confidentially). They might also require direct contact with any consignor, or previous owner, so as to be satisfied of the date and circumstances of any export of an object from a country of origin.” Auction houses in particular should be pressed to reveal their consignors.
  • “Listing such objects on a dedicated website achieves several desirable aims:  it constitutes notice to the whole world (including any true owner) of a museum’s custody and possession of an object;  it encourages exchange of provenance information between museums, especially those with objects of shared provenance; and it invites holders of a relevant interest, or relevant information, to come forward with that information.”

Buyers of antiquities would be wise to learn from the National Gallery of Australia’s example and follow these procedures before buying ancient art, not years later.

A copy of Crennan’s complete report can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Getty List: 10 Objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum that Turkey Says Were Looted

Among the dozens of allegedly looted antiquities that the government of Turkey is asking American museums to return are ten objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD. From Cremna, Turkey. Purchased in 1994 for $550,000 from Varya and Hans Cohn, Los Angeles. The Cohn’s acquired the object from Elie Borowsky (Basel) in ’68. (JPGM 94.AA.22)

The Getty declined to provide a list of the objects in question, as did the Met, the Cleveland Museum and Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks. We obtained a list from Turkish authorities and asked the Getty to provide the collecting history for those objects.

Unlike those other museums, the Getty is obligated by its 2006 acquisition policy to provide the public with provenance information about objects in the collection. Thanks to that policy, we now know something about how the contested objects came to the Getty.

The most prominent are four marble Muses now on display in the Getty Villa’s Basilica Room. All four appear to come from Cremna, Turkey and were first acquired by antiquities dealer Elie Borowski sometime before 1968, the Getty records show.

Borowski, who died in 2003, had ties to the illicit antiquities trade. His name appears in Robert Hecht’s memoir as a client of convicted antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici; it also appears on a handwritten organization chart of the illicit trade seized by Italian authorities in 2001. Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True told Italian authorities that Borowski had also been a client of Gianfranco Becchina, the Sicilian antiquities dealer (also named on the org chart) who is on trial in Italy.

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD. From Asia Minor. Purchased for $10,137 from Elie Borowsky in ’71; Borowsky already owned in 1968 (JPGM 71.AA.461)

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD, from Cremna, Turkey. Purchased for $9,185 in 1968 from Sotheby’s London, November 26, 1968. lot no. 173. (JPGM 68.AA.21)

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD, from Cremna, Turkey. Purchased in 1968 for $13,122 at Sotheby’s London, November 26, 1968. lot no. 173. (JPGM 68.AA.22)


Several other Getty objects sought by Turkey came through another dealer connected to the illicit trade: Nicolas Koutoulakis, now deceased owner of the Paris gallery Segredakis. Koutoulaksi also appears in the org chart and last September, the Getty returned to Greece fragments of a grave stone it had acquired from Koutoulakis after scholars concluded they adjoined an object now in a Greek museum.

Portrait of a Man. (73.AB.8) Purchased in 1973 for  $125,326  from Nicolas Koutoulakis

Bronze bust. (71.AB.458) Purchased in 1971 for $90,000 from Nicolas Koutoulakis.

Bronze foot from “Bubon, Turkey, Asia” (72.AB.103) acquired from Nicolas Koutoulakis. (See the Cleveland bronze from Bubon here.)

Bronze bed (82.AC.94) purchased for $150,000 from Nicolas Koutoulakis; Koutoulakis purchased from Gilette’s estate; Joseph Gilette of Lausanne, ca 1936.

The final two Getty objects come from a private dealer and an auction house:

Roman Eagle (72.AB.151) purchased in 1972 for $200,000 from French & Company.

Bronze bust of Lucius Veres  (73.AB.100) purchased in 1973 for $37,701 from Spink & Son, London.

When asked for comment about Turkey’s request, Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig said, “We are in dialogue with officials from the Turkish Ministry of Culture regarding some objects in our collection. We expect those discussions to continue and while they do, we will not be getting into specifics.”