Australian Galleries Admit Association with Disgraced Indian Antiquities Dealer Subhash Kapoor

Australian Galleries Admit Association with Disgraced Indian Antiquities Dealer Subhash Kapoor
Tamil Nadu, India Shiva as Lord of the Dance [Nataraja] 11th–12th century bronze 128.5 x 106.0 x 40.0 cm Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation 2008
(Image Source: National Gallery of Australia)

Two of Australia’s largest public galleries, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), have admitted to acquiring objects from the disgraced New York based, Indian art dealer Mr Subhash Kapoor.

63 year old Kapoor traded in Southeast and Central Asian art and antiques from his Madison Avenue shop as well as online via the now defunct website until his arrest at Frankfurt airport in Germany on the 30th of October 2011 on charges of trafficking stolen cultural artefacts.

Following his arrest, Kappor was extradited to India on the 14th of July 2012 and locked up in Chennai’s Puzhal prison where he faces criminal charges for the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property.  According to an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), “Kapoor allegedly created false provenances to disguise the histories of his illicit antiquities.”

A statement released by the National Gallery of Australia confirms that they purchased objects from Mr Kapoor including a 11th–12th century bronze Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance sculpture.  However, according to NGA Director Ron Radford, the gallery has not yet been contacted by Indian authorities and has yet to confirm whether the Shiva sculpture is one of the stolen works.

The media statement released by the NGA states that: “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.”

Michael Brand, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, was also keen to emphasise that there was no evidence that they were in the possession of any stolen Indian artefacts even though the gallery has admitted to purchasing items from Kapoor.

“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,” Mr Brand said in an interview with ABC radio.

The purchase of the Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance sculpture by the National Gallery of Australia was celebrated in the winter 2008 edition of the Gallery’s artonview magazine which also featured an image of the sculpture on the front cover. 

The National Gallery of Australia is 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.