National Gallery of Australia probing purchase of ‘smuggled’ Indian Shiva sculpture

By News Bureau

Melbourne: An 11-12 th century dancing sculpture of Shiva, the Hindu god, belonging to the Chola period allegedly smuggled from a temple in Tamilnadu (India) is impacting the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). The sculpture acquired by the NGA in 2008 is alleged to have been smuggled (2006) from a Tamilnadu temple with other idols with the help of locals and exported as ‘handicrafts’ to an art dealer in the United States.

An Indian origin American art dealer Mr. Subash Kapoor who was recently extradited to Tamilnadu (India) from Germany to face alleged smuggling charges of artefacts looted from Indian temples is suspected to be behind the smuggling operation. To clarify the issue the Canberra based National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has explained its position in a media release.
Meanwhile, media reports have indicated that the Art Gallery of New South Wales has also acquired some objects from Mr.Subash Kapoor. 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.”
The Sydney Morning Herald says, “Dozens of high-profile museums and galleries have acquired works of art through gifts or purchased from Mr. Kapoor, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Musee des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet in Paris and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.” Now the Australian institution is investigating whether an 11th -12th century sculpture of Shiva as Natajara, Lord of the Dance, which they purchased from Kapoor’s New York-based Art of the Past Gallery is another one to the allegedly looted artefacts.”
In a media statement Mr. Ron Radford AM, Director of the NGA says “As with all leading art institutions around the world, the Gallery is committed to strict due diligence when acquiring works of art, particularly with regards to determining provenance.”
The NGA purchased its Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance from Mr Kapoor in 2008 following a thorough due diligence process regarding the quality, provenance and time of its departure from India.
‘It is yet to be determined if this work is one of the stolen works as has been speculated about in certain media outlets. The Gallery has not received any advice from Indian authorities to this effect at this time,’ said Ron Radford.
The release further says: “The Gallery adheres to the principles of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Australian Government is a signatory to this Convention. 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 release said.

The Economic Offences Wing of the Tamilnadu Police has put up details of the alleged smuggling racket under the heading – “Bursting of international racket – Smuggling of Antiques from Ariyalur to America” and can be accessed at http://www.tneow.gov.in/IDOL/status_info.html.

SOURCE: SAT August 2012

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