Why is the National Gallery of Australia returning 14 works of art to India?

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These include six bronze or stone sculptures, a painted scroll, a brass processional stand, and six photographs. The entire collection is worth around $ 2.2 million (around Rs 16.34 crore).

NGA. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Thennicke

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) will be removing 14 works from its Asian art collection and returning them to India, as they were stolen, illegally searched or acquired unethically.

These include six bronze or stone sculptures, a painted scroll, a brass processional stand, and six photographs. The entire collection is worth around $ 2.2 million (around Rs 16.34 crore).

How were these pieces acquired?

While one of the pieces was acquired from the late New York art dealer William Wolff, 13 were acquired from Manhattan art dealer and alleged antiques smuggler Subhash Kapoor. They were all acquired by NGA between 1989 and 2009.

How will the handover go?

Whether the physical handover will take place in Canberra or India will be discussed over the next few months, depending on COVID-19[female[feminine -related restrictions and the ability to travel.

“It’s unfortunate, and the institution regrets this development. We are doing everything possible to avoid future missteps like this ”, noted NGA director Nick Mitzevich. “This is a historic problem… The NGA was part of an international campaign of fraud that affected more than a dozen of the most important institutions in the world. “

What else is the NGA doing?

This is the fourth time that the NGA has returned looted or illegally exported works bought in Kapoor. These include a $ 5 million, 11e or 12th century bronze statue of Shiva, stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and returned to India in 2014. In 2016, the NGA returned a stone sculpture of the goddess Pratyangira and the worshipers of the Buddha, a limestone sculpture from 3rd century. And in 2019, a pair of 15e century stone gate guards and a 6e at 8e stone sculpture of the Nagaraj century.

The NGA is now adopting a new provenance assessment that will take into account both legal and ethical aspects of the history of a work of art. “If, on a balance of probabilities, it is considered probable that an object has been stolen, illegally excavated, exported in violation of the law of a foreign country, or acquired unethically, the National Gallery will take measures for alienation and repatriation “, noted a statement from the NGA.

Who is Subhash Kapoor?

Kapoor, a dual citizen of India and the United States established his Art of the Past gallery in 1974 and has become a respected figure in the global art market, selling and donating works to several art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Peabody Essex Museum, and more.

He was extradited from Germany to India by Interpol in 2012 and is in pre-trial detention on charges of stealing and illegally exporting ancient artifacts. If found guilty, he faces a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

His seven co-defendants include dealers in Hong Kong and Singapore and art restorers in London and Brooklyn. They allegedly operated a network that had looted antiques all over Asia, with allegedly forged documents and invented property histories before it was put up for sale at Art of the Past.

Kapoor is said to have organized the global smuggling ring between 1986 and 2016, smuggling more than 2,600 items worth $ 145 million in the United States.

The NGA is working to remove the last three works from its collection of Asian art purchased from Art of the Past. “The changes we have made mean that we now have zero tolerance for any provenance inconsistencies for all acquisitions in the collection,” said Mitzevich.

What is India’s response?

Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra welcomed the news. “The Indian government is grateful for this extraordinary act of goodwill and gesture of friendship on the part of Australia,” he said. “These are exceptional pieces. Their return will be extremely well received by the Indian government and people. “

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