In light of recent stories in the media, the National Gallery of Australia
, Canberra wishes to make a statement in relation to the purchase of works of art from Mr Subhash Kapoor through his gallery Art of the Past, New York.
Mr Subhash Kapoor is an American citizen born in India who has operated the Art of the Past gallery for over 30 years in Madison Avenue in New York City. Indian objects acquired from Art of the Past are held by at least 18 major galleries and museums around the world including the Metropolitan Museum New York, Smithsonians Sackler Museum, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Works of art purchased from Art of the Past
The National Gallery of Australia owns 21 works of art from Art of the Past collected between 2002 and 2011:
13 sculptures (2 of which are in 2 parts) from South Asia
1 sculpture from Southeast Asia
These acquisitions have been funded through a combination of Government allocation and private donations.
Mr Kapoor is currently facing criminal proceedings in India. As a result considerable attention has been given to the 11th 12th century bronze sculpture of Shiva as Lord of the Dance [Shiva Nataraja] in the Gallerys collection purchased in 2008. When the Gallery became aware of the situation in July 2012, a meeting with the Indian High Commission in Canberra was immediately arranged and the Gallery has stated publicly its willingness to cooperate with relevant authorities on this matter.
Acquisition process for the 11th 12th century bronze sculpture of Shiva as Lord of the Dance [Shiva Nataraja]
The purchase negotiations for this work spanned over a year and included visits to the Art of the Past Gallery in New York by the Senior Curator of Asian Art and later the Director and then Chair of the Gallerys Council to view the sculpture and ensure it was of a quality suited to Australias national collection. The sculpture was on open display at Art of the Past on Madison Avenue in New York.
The Gallery exercised probity and due diligence in relation to this acquisition to ensure the sculpture was genuine, that it was out of India before the required dates and that to the best of our knowledge at the time, it was not believed nor alleged to have been stolen. Our checking processes at the time, before purchase, included:
the receipt of a certificate from the international Art Loss Register
receiving and checking letters from the previous owner, including checking that the address of the former owner was legitimate
consulting the Tamil Nadu Police website for stolen objects
liaising with a Chola bronze expert in India, who was supportive of the acquisition
checking the extensive records produced by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Such extensive searching found no indications that the object was of concern or that its acquisition did not conform with accepted legal or ethical standards.
The Gallery also appointed an independent legal specialist to review the supplied confidential provenance papers and to ensure that the legal, contractual, title and ethical issues were fully addressed and appropriate. A letter of guarantee and warranty was exchanged between Mr Kapoor and the Gallery to protect the Gallery.
A full report was then presented to the Gallerys Council and the sculpture was approved for acquisition.
Collecting and displaying works from our region
The National Gallery of Australia has taken seriously its commitment to collecting and displaying the finest art of our region, with particular focus on South and Southeast Asia. The Gallery has a significant collection of Indian art having commenced collecting in the late 1960s from a range of reputable dealers and auction houses. In recent years, one collecting emphasis has been on building the collection of art from South Asia and displaying the rich traditions of Indian art for Australian audiences. Works of art have been acquired through a number of dealers, primarily in the United States of America, Britain and Europe. As part of our due diligence processes, the Gallery engages with well-established art dealers, one of which was Art of the Past in New York.
International Conventions protecting works of art
Works of art subject to restrictions have been acquired through the secondary market outside of their countries of origin. Not all works of art made in India, for instance, are subject to export restrictions; textiles and photographs of any age are among the objects not restricted. However, when the Gallery purchases works of art, it does so subject to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The UNESCO Convention came into effect in 1972 and was ratified by the Commonwealth of Australia, by the enactment the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act in 1986. India signed and ratified the UNESCO Convention in 1977.
It is often assumed, wrongly, that all antiquities in museum collections or on the art market were illegally removed from their country of origin. Restrictions on sale and export of antiquities have not always existed, and temples and religious objects have been replaced or fallen out of use for a variety of reasons. A relatively large number of important works of art with pre-1972 provenance continue to be offered on the secondary market, especially from private collectors in America, Britain and Europe as well as through museum deaccessioning.
The majority of works of art acquired through Mr Kapoor are on public display in the Gallery where they will remain pending the outcome of the legal process.
Indian authorities and the Idol Wing
The Idol Wing of the Economic Offences Wing, Tamil Nadu Police Department traces stolen antiquities. In August 2008 (some months after the Gallery acquired the work) local police in India noted a large bronze Shiva as missing from a disused temple in Sripuranthan village in Ariyalur district in Tamil Nadu. It was not until 25 March 2009, that Idol Wing posted any information on this incident.
Continued co-operation with relevant authorities in Australia and India
The Gallery continues to liaise with the Indian High Commission in Canberra as well as relevant government departments. Our co-operation with the relevant authorities in this regard is sincere and proper, as one would expect of a national institution. These discussions are continuing and the Gallery will continue to respect the confidentiality required in government to government relations.
Art of the Past and the court case
Until the arrest of its owner, Art of the Past had an excellent reputation with clients including some of the worlds highest profile museums and galleries. If, at the end of the legal process, the courts determine that Mr Kapoor has been trading in stolen antiquities, then it is possible that the Gallery is a victim of fraud. Until the results are known, the Gallery will continue to cooperate with the relevant authorities.
The Gallery does not have any information regarding the timeframe on the development of the case against Mr Kapoor or the likely hearing dates of the case.
Media reports carry images of bronze Shiva statues and it should be noted that there are many similar Shiva statues in existence both in India and across the world and only through close examination can differences between them be discerned. Clear documented images of the stolen works and their dimensions are yet to be received by the Gallery.
While media reports are taken seriously, at this point very little factual information from authorities has been supplied regarding the allegations or the activities undertaken by Mr Kapoor, especially in relation to works held in the Gallerys collection. At this point the Gallery has been given no substantiated evidence to affect its belief that it owns a genuine item with proper documentation for its history of ownership and which was acquired within accepted museums standards.