Tag Archives: Vijay Kumar

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

 

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The Missing Link: Subhash Kapoor’s Suppliers in India Are (Finally) Getting Rolled Up

Update September 2016: Indian media report that a temple thief who worked for Deena Dayalan has been accused of murdering a fellow thief after a dispute over 13 idols they took from a temple in 2005. 

In a series of aggressive police raids over the past month, Indian authorities have disrupted a large network of alleged thieves and smugglers that for decades has plundered ancient temples from Chennai to Mumbai to supply the international art market.

The raids started on May 31st with the arrest of three men  at a Chennai warehouse (or godown, in the Indian parlance). The men were employees of an 84-year old art dealer named Deena Dayalan, who has operated a Chennai art gallery since 1965. Indian and American authorities believe Dayalan has long been a major player in the theft and smuggling of antiquities from South India.

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Deena Dayalan, via Indian Express

Dayalan disappeared after the raid, but turned himself in a few days later. He is said to have confessed during an interrogation and listed his associates and storage facilities across India. Subsequent raids on his properties uncovered hundreds of artifacts, including 49 bronzes, 71 stone carvings and 96 paintings and hundreds of smaller objects including ivory and wood carvings, lamps, figurines and ornamental pillars.

As reported by Frontline, The Hindu newspaper’s weekly magazine, policemen entering Dayalan’s house were stunned by the scope of his haul:

“It looked like a temple,” one investigator told Frontline. “Besides the idols and artefacts, there were pamphlets and books on temple idols and archtecture. The pillars of his house could be from some old temples. There were wooden sculptures and two elephant heads at the entrance,” said an officer.

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The raid was not Dayalan’s first run-in with the law.  Frontline reported the dealer was accused of being behind the 2005 break-in at the ancient Sri Narum Poonathar Temple at Paluvoor village in Tirunelveli, where 13 bronze idols were stolen. After the theft, an accomplice was murdered in a dispute over efforts to extract gold from two-and-a-half-foot bronze Nataraja, which was sawn in half in the process. Dayalan was released on bail, and the case is on-going.

UPDATE 7/4/16: The Tamil Nadu Idol Wing has seized 200 objects from Lakshmi Narayanan, an associate of Dayalan. Authorities found 56 were metal idols, 103 stone idols, and 47 temple vahanas (decorative platforms used to carry the deity in processions), The Hindu reports. Narayanan was arrested and will face charges of idol theft.

NagasamyThe police raids have now spread beyond Tamil Nadu are likely to continue in the coming weeks that authorities unravel the smuggling network and sort through voluminous evidence. Authorities have identified the courier service that Dayalan used to transport objects within India and seized his laptop, a desktop computer and storage drives. He allegedly labeled his stolen artifacts as modern handicrafts before they were smuggled out of India through Mumbai, where an unnamed “boss” in the illicit trade remains at large.

The investigation promises to give investigators what one Indian paper called “a glimpse of the man’s murky business with several smuggling cartels across the globe.” As The Hindu noted in an editorial, “The meticulously organised nature of this shadowy business hints at the deep and vast network of idol thieves who have plied their trade across not only Tamil Nadu but numerous other Indian States and even broader territories of South and South East Asia.”

The Kapoor Link

subhash kapoorInvestigators are still looking for links between Dayalan and one of his prominent American clients: Subhash Kapoor, the Manhattan antiquities dealer now standing trial in India for selling stolen antiquities to museums around the world. “We have not got clinching evidence to prove [his] link with the international idol smuggler Subhash Kapoor,” one investigator told the Times of India.

We can help: The following document links Dhayalan to Kapoor and hints at the extensive business relationship they are believed to have had.

Deenadhayalan letter

The document records Dayalan’s 2007 request for a payment of USD $11,400 from Kapoor’s Nimbus Import & Export through Selva Export, one of the Chennai export companies they used to transport artifacts. It is still unclear whether that amount was paid, what object(s) were purchased for the sum, and where those objects are today.

220-2004s-339x605_q85 But authorities have already identified Dayalan as the source of one stolen Kapoor object that has already been returned to India: The Art Gallery of New South Wales‘ sculpture of Ardhanarishvara, whose origins we revealed in 2013.

The AGNSW purchased the sculpture for $300,000 after Kapoor provided documents claiming it had left India in the 1970s. But Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project identified images that showed the sculpture in situ at the Vriddhachalam temple at least four years after 1970. A subsequent police investigation concluded it had been stolen in 2002 by Dayalan and replaced by a knockoff that villagers continued to worship.

Dayalan is believed to have supplied Kapoor with a number of objects from South India.

As Michaela Boland reported Sunday in The Australian, Dayalan is believed to have supplied Kapoor with two other objects that landed in the National Gallery of Australia: an 1800-year-old limestone carving depicting a scene from the life of Buddha, and a 1000-year-old stone goddess Pratyangira, purchased together from Kapoor in 2005 for $1.5 million. b8652fac07e4a2314495006b340b84d6

Kapoor told the museum the sculpture of the Buddha’s life had been in a private Japanese collection until 1999. But this photo, found in Kapoor’s archives, shows the unrestored sculpture above soon after it was stolen by thieves:

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A similar tale emerges on the NGA’s Pratyangira. Kapoor claimed it had been in the collection of Selina Mohamed (his onetime girlfriend) since 1990. But photos and records found in Kapoor’s files show the Pratyangira was still in Mumbai, India in 2002.

Below at left we see the NGA’s Pratyangira as offered in a Kapoor catalog, and at right the same sculpture before it left India. Note the identical missing segments from the figure’s left elbow.

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Amaravati Objects

Investigators believe Dayalan may have been behind looting of material from Amaravati, an important archeological site in Andhra Pradesh, where Dayalan grew up. Items seized from his warehouses include Amaravati architectural fragments.

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Dayalan may well have been the source of Amaravati fragments that Kapoor sold to the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore.

ACM frags

As we wrote in 2014, Kapoor sold the ACM a 3rd Century limestone fragment from Amaravati in October 1997 for $22,500. His accompanying description suggests he had detailed knowledge of the find spot:

“Examples from the Amaravait stuppa are extremely rare to find,” he wrote. “This particular piece does not come from the stuppa proper, but from the outer rail copings that surrounded the stuppa. It is an exceptional example in both its size and in its illustrative qualities…The iconography of this fragment makes this a most interesting piece from the Amaravati area.”

Long Time Coming

The Indian raids are long overdue. Records show American authorities provided detailed evidence about Kapoor’s Indian suppliers as far back as 2014. India’s failure to act on those leads, despite repeated urging from American authorities and others, has been one of several troubling signs in the long delayed criminal trial of Kapoor.

As Kumar recounted in an article about the investigation by ICE U.S. Special Agent Brent Easter: “For too long the red tape of Indian Bureaucracy and the ill equipped custodians have sent him on wild goose chases – including multiple weeks in hot and sultry India, with promises of arrests of the bad guys. Frustrating, when he has done all the hard work and with irrefutable proof of the bad guys shipping documents, email exchanges and bank transfers to see the patchy attempts in delaying and letting the actual crooks off the hook.”

It is likely no coincidence that the Indian raids were launched just days before U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the return of 200 looted antiquities to India during the state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The returns, many of which had been seized from Kapoor or his clients, may have been used as leverage with India to ensure Kapoor’s suppliers were nabbed. (On the right below is the Toledo Ganesh, which Kumar first revealed as looted in a 2013 post.)

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The raids have also underscored the need to expand India’s domestic enforcement efforts. The country’s only dedicated art police is the Tamil Nadu idol wing, led by Inspector General A G Pon Manickavel, is now chasing leads across India and international borders. The country desperately needs to develop a national police force dedicated to protecting its oft-purloined cultural heritage.

Government agencies should also work more closely with civil society groups like Kumar’s India Pride Project, which has worked tirelessly over the past years to identify stolen antiquities and bring them home, often while cajoling government officials to do more.

The willingness of Indian officials to crack down on the illicit antiquities trade within their borders will be measured largely by the aggressiveness with which they chase the leads they have gathered from Deena Dhayalan.

 

 

 

 

Ball State’s Kapoor Return Reveals New False Provenance

M4930On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents recovered a Chola period bronze from Ball State University’s Owsley Museum, marking yet another trail in the path of stolen Indian artifacts sold by dealer Subhash Kapoor.

In April 2005, the Indiana museum bought the Festival Bronze of Shiva and Parvati from Kapoor for $100,000, records show. Kapoor presented paperwork showing it had been in a private collection since 1969.

But images seized from Kapoor show he only acquired the bronze in 2004. At the time, it was covered in dirt and missing several pieces, as shown in the photo below.

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Questions about the bronze were first raised by our friend Vijay Kumar, who wrote about the sculpture in the Times of India  in July 2015.

The temple it was stolen from has yet to be identified. As Kumar noted,  that the base of the statue has an inscription in Tamil that reads: “Thipampaapuram Sivigai Naayagar.”

“There are a few temples in Tamil Nadu that have names such as Thirupampuram, Thipamburam and so on…It was sold in 2005, the same time when Sripuranthan and Suthamalli were looted. With the help of the public, the authorities including the police should take all efforts to bring home this statue.”

After museum officials were informed about Kumar’s article, they contacted the Indian Consulate in Chicago and cooperated with federal agents during their investigation. “Homeland Security Investigations has presented convincing evidence that the work was stolen and its documentation falsified,” said museum director Robert La France.

As we’ve reported, Kapoor and his staff often used the name of his girlfriend and other acquaintances to create a false ownership for recently stolen antiquities. The Ball State case reveals a new name used by Kapoor: Leo Figiel, a collector of Indian art who died in 2013 2004. The Peabody Essex Museum, which recently returned a Kapoor object, acquired Figiel’s collection of antique Indian bronzes in 2006.

Figiel provided Kapoor with this false letter claiming he acquired the bronze from “a European collection in 1969.” It was not the only Kapoor object for which Figiel provided a false provenance, as we’ll show in the coming weeks.

 

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Shiva Goes Home: Australia’s Prime Minister Returns Looted Kapoor Idols to India

 

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On Friday, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott will return two looted idols seized from Australian museums during a meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Abbott will personally deliver the National Gallery of Australia‘s $5 million Dancing Shiva and the Art Gallery of New South Wales‘ $300,000 Ardhanarishvara to Modi as a “gesture of good will” at a state reception at the Indian presidential palace, the Australian’s Michaela Boland reported in Friday’s paper (front page seen above.)

As we first revealed here a year ago, both objects were stolen from temples in India and later sold to the museums by Manhattan dealer Subhash Kapoor, who, his gallery manager has admitted, created falsified ownership documents to hide their illicit origins.

The Australian returns mark the first major repatriations in the Kapoor case, but are unlikely to be the last. Dozens more Kapoor objects acquired by the Australian museums were sold with false ownership histories similar to those used with the returned objects. Several will likely play a prominent role in Kapoor’s criminal trial in Chennai, India, which has been on hold pending the return of the NGA’s looted Shiva. (below)

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Meanwhile, Kapoor’s international network of looters and smugglers is still being mapped by authorities in the United States, who have already seized over $100 million in art from the dealer’s Manhattan gallery and storage facilities. Federal investigators in the United States are methodically working through mountains of evidence seized from Kapoor, probing his ties to a number of American and foreign museums that did business with the dealer. Indian authorities, meanwhile, are considering a broader campaign to reclaim stolen antiquities from foreign institutions.

220-2004s-339x605_q85Over the past two years, we’ve traced hundreds of suspect Kapoor objects to museums around the world. To date, the Kapoor case has received the most attention in Australia, whose National Gallery for months stonewalled press and government inquiries and dismissed mounting evidence before agreeing to take the stolen idol off display. The Art Gallery of New South Wales took a slightly more proactive approach, releasing the ownership history that Kapoor supplied for its sculpture of  Ardhanarishvara (left.) Soon after, Indian art blogger Vijay Kumar identified the temple from which the sculpture was stolen.

The idols have been in the Australian government’s possession for months, but their fate remained unclear until today. The According to The Australian, Abbott decided during a July dinner with George Brandis, Australia’s Attorney General and Arts Minister, to present the idols to Modi during his two-day state visit to India. “Brandis told him the issue was a potential problem in the relationship between the nation­s and Mr Abbott said returning the statues would be an important statement of goodwill towards the Indian Prime Minister, elected to office in May,” the newspaper reported.

Underscoring the diplomatic importance of the returns, Abbott reportedly wanted to have his presidential plane transport the objects directly but they were too heavy and were dispatched on Wednesday by jumbo jet instead.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery officials who played a key role in acquiring the Shiva – despite the warnings of their own attorney – are quietly exiting the scene. Curator Robyn Maxwell, who handled the negotiations with Kapoor, retired quietly last month, the Australian reported. Director Ronald Radford will retire this month, his legacy tarnished by his mishandling of the case. The Art Gallery NSW’s Michael Brand, who has taken a more open approach to looting investigations in Australia and previously at the Getty, has been mentioned as a possible successor.

 

UPDATED > Singapore Sling: The Asian Civilizations Museum Paid Kapoor More Than $1 million

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UPDATE 6/15/15: The Asian Civilizations Museum has agreed to return its looted sculture of Uma, according to Indian press reports. Twenty eight additional Kapoor objects at the museum remain under review.

UPDATE 3/20/15: The Asian Civilizations Museum has filed a lawsuit against Subhash Kapoor in New York City seeking repayment of $1.4 million it paid him for antiquities with falsified ownership histories. As noted earlier when Australia’s NGA took a similar step, such lawsuits are unlikely to prevail given Kapoor’s on-going criminal trial in India.

UPDATE: In response to this report, the Asian Civilizations Museum confirmed our accounting and released information on a few objects we missed, including six additional paintings purchased for $100,000 and a 10th century stone Nandi purchased for $55,000. That brings the total paid to dealer Subhash Kapoor to more than $1.3 million. The museum has yet to release any information on the provenance for the ancient objects.

nandiSingapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum bought more than $1 million of art from disgraced Manhattan antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, according to business records from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery.

Invoices that Kapoor sent to the ACM between 1997 and 2010 detail more than two dozen objects he sold, including nine antiquities of unclear provenance. (Kapoor also sold Indian manuscripts and paintings that to date have not be the subject of law enforcement investigations. Our complete Kapoor coverage here.) Most of the invoices were directed to the ACM’s former senior curator for South Asia, Dr. Gauri Krishnan. Krishnan is now director of the Indian Heritage Centre at Singapore’s National Heritage Board. The ACM did not respond to a request for comment.

M5354newhfLast December we reported that the ACM’s sculpture of Uma Parameshvari was stolen from the Sivan Temple in India’s Ariyalur District in 2005 or 2006, according to the court records filed with the guilty plea of Kapoor’s gallery manager Aaron Freedman.

In January, the ACM acknowledged it had purchased a total of 30 objects from Kapoor, who currently stands trial in India for trafficking 18 idols stolen at his request from local temples. The ACM did not name the objects, detail their provenance or disclose the price the museum had paid for them.

Now we can.

Amaravathi_stupaIn October 1997, Kapoor billed the ACM $22,500 for a 3rd Century limestone fragment from Amaravati, South India. “Examples from the Amaravait stuppa are extremely rare to find,” Kapoor wrote in text accompanying the sale. “This particular piece does not come from the stuppa proper, but from the outer rail copings that surrounded the stuppa. It is an exceptional example in both its size and in its illustrative qualities…The iconography of this fragment makes this a most interesting piece from the Amaravati area.”

standing_buddha_nagaiLater that same month, Kapoor sold the ACM a copper 11th Century Standing Buddha from Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu for $15,000. Nagapattinam was an important center for Buddhism in South India,” he noted in the text. “Material from this area is extremely rare to find, and especially in such fine condition. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has an example which is slightly larger, but remains in a much inferior condition (vol.2 fig.140b). This example, though, is extremely crisp and well articulated.”lion_kanuj

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In February 1998, Kapoor sold the ACM an 11th Century sandstone Crouching Lion (above) from Kanoj, Uttar Padesh for $35,000 and an 11th century stone Goddess Camunda (right) from Rajshahi, Bangladesh priced at $25,000. After a $5,000 discount, the total invoice was for $55,000. The goddess had previously been published in Leaves of the Bodhi Tree (#24).

That same month, Kapoor billed the ACM $9,500 for Hindoo Costumes, an album of 14 paintings from South India. Kapoor said the previous owner of the album was Sofia Anna Woolfe. In March 1999, Kapoor sold the ACM two 19th century watercolors from Tanjore for $6,000.

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An Art of the Past invoice dated April 2002 shows the ACM bought three ancient rattles from Kapoor for $10,000. The rattles (above) depict a seated man with bare belly, a boy seated with ball, and a seated man.

In July 2006, Kapoor provided ACM with a letter of provenance for a late 18th century altar from Goa with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. The letter claims the altar had belonged to the parents of Selina Mohamed, Kapoor’s girlfriend. Mohamed claimed her parents acquired the altar in the 1960s and gifted it to her in 1992. (For reasons that are not clear, Kapoor did not send an invoice for the altar until February 2009, when he billed the ACM $135,000.)

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Mohamed was indicted by US authorities in December 2013 on four counts of possession of stolen property and one count of conspiracy. Court records allege she fabricated false ownership histories for dozens of objects sold by Kapoor.

In February 2007, Kapoor sold the ACM the 11th century bronze Chola sculpture of Uma Parameshvari mentioned above. The price, after a $100,000 “discount,” was $650,000. The Uma had appeared in Art of the Past’s 2006 catalog. The ACM’s former curator Gauri Parimoo Krishnan has described the sculpture as one of the museum’s most prized artifacts, and it is featured prominently in museum promotional materials.

In a separate invoice that month, Kapoor specified the price ACM paid for ten additional objects:

1

Jina Rishabhanatha, M5378 South India, late 18th – early 19th century

25,000.00

2

Guru Garanth Sahib, M5831 Manuscript Punjab, Lahore, 19th century

15,000.00

3

Folio from a Mahabharata Series, P2458 South India, Seringpatnam, circa 1670Gouache and gold on paper

25,000.00

4

Adulation of Shri Nath-ji P2727 Rajasthan, Nathdawara, circa 1870

12,000.00

5

The Siege of Lanka P3009 Kangra, ca. 1820 Gouache and gold on paper

75,000.00

6

Rama and His Army Crossing to Lanka P3014 Kangra, ca. 1820 Gouache and gold on paper

75,000.00

7

Guru Nanak Dev with Bala and Mardana P0811 Deccan, circa 1700-1720 Gouache and gold on paper

9,000.00

8

Ram,Lakshman, Sita in River P3010
Kangra, ca. 1820 Gouache and gold on paper

50,000.00

9

Ram Lskshman Leaving P3012
Kangra, ca. 1820 Gouache and gold on paper

60,000.00

10

Mica Muharram Procession P1847 Delhi or Jaipur 19th century

3,500.00

Total

349,500.00

Discountover 31%

109,500.00

Final Total

240,000.00

Also in February 2007, Kapoor provided the ACM with a guarantee for the authenticity and provenance “of all artwork sold.” “If in the future the verity of either their provenance or authenticity is legally questioned and found to be incorrect, I nearby promise to reimburse the Asian Civilization Museum for the cost paid…” In April 2007, Kapoor billed the ACM $12,381 for the customs duties for the shipment of nine paintings an one manuscript, most likely the ones listed above.

In Dec, 2009, Kapoor billed the ACM 37,500 for three $30,000 for two watercolors on gold paper. (Change reflects statement by ACM.)

The total value of the ACM’s acquisitions from Kapoor: $1,328,250. 

Given the ACM’s extensive dealings with Kapoor, the Singapore museum should immediately release the provenance documents for all the antiquities it acquired from the dealer and proactively reach out to Indian and American investigators.

Our gratitude to Vijay Kumar for supplying several images of the Kapoor objects on display in the ACM. Readers can follow developments in the Kapoor case at Kumar’s website Poetry in Stone.   

UPDATED: At Looted Temple In India, Locals Unwittingly Worship a Fake

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UPDATED BELOW

Earlier this month we revealed that a 900-year-old Indian sculpture at Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (above) was stolen from an Indian temple and sold to the museum in 2004 by Manhattan antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor.

We now have current pictures of the Vriddachalam temple in Tamil Nadu, where a modern replica (below) is today worshipped in place of the stolen piece.

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Both the ancient and the modern sculptures represent Ardhanarisvara, a manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva and his lover Parvati. According to Vijay Kumar, an authority on Tamil Nadu temple sculptures, the current sculpture was installed in 2002 during a temple ritual. A local elder told Kumar that the original was stolen sometime in the 1980s. The replacement statue appears to be modern, Kumar notes, because of the position of the right hand: “Iconography stipulates that the hand lay flat on the head of the bull…But the sculptor who did this was most certainly a novice who [while] good in sculpting does not know the agamas (liturgical texts) well!”

In a recent report in The Hindu, journalist A. Srivathsan noted that temple authorities were not aware the original sculpture had been stolen. Srivathsan went on to describe the significance of the discovery:

With this revelation, that came during ongoing investigations involving Subhash Chandra Kapoor, a United States-based antiquities dealer arrested and jailed for his alleged involvement in an idol theft case, it has become apparent that the looting of Indian temple treasures is far more rampant than what was hitherto assumed or known. And, it would seem that even big and well-known temples have not been spared.

Ardhanarishvara receiptWhen The Hindu informed local authorities about the theft, the case was immediately referred to the Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu police for investigation. Kapoor is facing trial in the coming months in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai in a case built by the Idol Wing with the help of American investigators, who have seized more than $100 million in allegedly looted art from Kapoor. (Find our previous Kapoor coverage here.)

The Hindu also dug into a 1970 receipt (above) provided to the museum by Kapoor, who has been known to forge false ownership histories in other cases.

When The Hindu traced out the shop, which still exists in Old Delhi, and spoke to one of the sons of Uttam Singh over the phone, he said he was not aware of such a sale. He also clarified that his deceased father Uttam Singh signed only in Urdu. The receipt produced by the Australian gallery bears no signature.

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As Michaela Boland has noted in The Australian, authorities at the Art Gallery of New South Wales would have realized the statue they purchased for $300,000 had been stolen if they had simply walked seven minutes across town to the state library of New South Wales. There Douglas E. Barrett’s 1974 book Early Cola Architecture and Sculpture, 866-1014 AD has an image of the sculpture in its original context in the Vriddachalam temple.

Boland quotes Damien Huffer, archaeologist and author of the excellent blog It Surfaced Down Under, saying that the publication clearly establishes the sculpture was removed illegally from India, which has required a permit for the export of antiquities since 1972. Huffer also descries the lack of research performed by museum curators:

“For a museum or gallery to truly perform due diligence requires that they bring all of their often considerable resources to bear to assess all available published information, and not merely what the dealer suggests.”

The case shows once again that today investigators and journalists around the world are doing the research that museums should have done years ago.

UPDATE 7/29: Michaela Boland at The Australian has written a story with the latest developments, noting that Tamil Nadu authorities have been notified of the theft and are investigating. She includes this tidbit suggesting a failure of due diligence at Australian museums: “A researcher at the French Institute [ of Pondicherry, a research unit funded by the French government which maintains a database of significant antiquities in southern India] told The Australian that in 21 years he did not field an inquiry from an Australian art gallery researching Indian artefacts, despite the institute’s well-known database intended to serve exactly that purpose.” Boland also quotes Art Gallery NSW director Michael Brand saying he is “feeling a strong sense of deja vu,” a reference to his handling of similar antiquities scandals at the Getty Museum in 2007.