Cloud over NGA's $2m sculpture sold by 'Indian Jones'

Diana Streak August 04, 2012

Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance.

Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance.

A bronze sculpture acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in 2008 is one of several antiquities suspected of being looted and sold illegally by a New York-based art dealer who was arrested and extradited to face charges in India.

The gallery said it was aware of media reports that Indian police had arrested Subhash Kapoor for allegedly trafficking Indian antiquities and that the case against him is now under way.

The New York Post said recently: ''Accused 'Indian Jones' antiquities crook Subhash Kapoor claims he earned more than $US11 million [$10.4 million] selling statues and other items looted from India's temples through his Upper East Side business in the past decade.

''And the Post has learned one of the stolen items - a 900-year-old statute of 'Shiva as Lord of the Dance' valued at $US2 million - is on display in the National Gallery of Australia.''

Gallery director Ron Radford said the gallery purchased its Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance from Mr Kapoor in 2008 after 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,'' he said. ''The gallery has not received any advice from Indian authorities to this effect at this time.''

The gallery has not yet been approached by Indian police but had contacted the Indian high commission in Canberra this week to ensure a co-operative approach will be taken if required in regard to the 11th-12th century statue from Tamil Nadu.

Mr Kapoor, once the darling of Manhattan and museums across the United States, had been on the Interpol Red Notice list and was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt airport in Germany. He was extradited to India last month.

American investigators seized more than $US20 million worth of Asian antiquities from storage units in Manhattan and have asked American museums to scrutinise their collections for items acquired from Mr Kapoor.

Mr Radford said the gallery was one of at least 18 major international art institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington DC and the Art Institute of Chicago that have acquired works of art through gifts or purchased from Mr Kapoor.

''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,'' Mr Radford said.

''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.''

Mr Radford said many international galleries were also undertaking the same action.

''The gallery adheres to the principles of the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation] Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,'' Mr Radford said.

''The Australian government is a signatory to this convention.''

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