National Gallery of Australia review finds 22 works of 'insufficient or questionable' provenance

This Shiva statue, bought by the National Gallery of Australia, and returned to India because it was stolen. Source: NGA

A review of the National Gallery of Australia’s Asian art in the wake of the scandal over a stolen bronze Shiva statue has found there were 22 works in the collection with “insufficient or questionable provenance documentation”.

The review by former High Court justice Susan Crennan found that all up, 14 works were bought from former New York-based Art of the Past dealer Subhash Kapoor, who was arrested and charges with conspiracy to commit theft in 2011. Kapoor is currently awaiting trial in India over the theft of the religious statues from the Chennai region.

The 22 works include the $6 million 12th century bronze Shiva Nataraja statue, which was looted from a temple in Tamil Nadu, and then bought from Kapoor in 2008 before being returned to India in 2014.

The NGA maintains it made adequate checks on the provenance of the Shiva statue and was the victim of fraud.

The remaining works purchased from Art of the Past are now listed on the NGA’s website here as part of its Asian art provenance project.

Another work, seated Buddha, bought for the gallery for $1.2 million by Ros Packer from Nancy Wiener Galleries, is among the 22 works, and will be returned to India this year. The New York dealer has given the gallery a refund.

The future of the other works is unclear at this point.

Crennan looked at 36 internal audit reports on objects acquired by the NGA between 1968 and 2013, when the scandal over the Shiva statue first broke. She concluded 12 objects have satisfactory provenance documentation and two require further research.

The NGA says Crennan’s conclusions are in accord with the views of gallery staff and legal counsel.

The Gallery says that based on legal advice, some of the information in the review has been redacted, including details subject to confidentiality agreements. As a result of the deceptions perpetrated by Kapoor, the NGA, in general, no longer signs confidentiality agreements.

The National Gallery of Australia commenced legal proceedings in the New York Supreme Court against Kapoor, to recover the US$5 million it paid for the work, after Kapoor’s former office manager admitted it was stolen during his trial for receiving stolen Indian artefacts.

New NGA Director Dr Gerard Vaughan, said the review gave the gallery clear guidelines on future acquisition procedures and due diligence.

“I welcome Mrs Crennan’s independent assessment which clarifies the legal and ethical framework in which the NGA’s collecting should take place; this will prove invaluable for ongoing provenance-checking and comparative risk assessment,” he said.

India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Navdeep Suri, said the gallery’s collaboration with Indian officials to establish the provenance of ancient works was appreciated.

“In establishing a framework for restitution of a stolen property to the country of its origin, NGA has set a worthy example for other countries and institutions to follow,” he said.

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