Friday 21 September 2012

National Gallery of Australia "to look into suspect statue"

The National Gallery of Australia has had to set up an internal panel to find out where a statue they bought four years ago actually comes from. it's a shame they did not do that before they decided to buy it, as it turns out that there are suspicions that the gallery's 900-year-old bronze Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja) has been identified as a possible match with a statue stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu. The Canberra Shiva was purchased from New York dealer Subhash Kapoor, in the same year as the Shiva statue from Suthamalli in Tamil Nadu -- alleged to be the same as the Canberra Shiva -- was reportedly stolen. When they've worked out where the statue and 20 other artworks purchased from Mr Kapoor actually came from, their "future will then be determined by the NGA council based on "hard evidence"...". So basically what they are saying is that until now they have quite happily acquired objects like these without any hard evidence to exclude illicit origins?
If it is proven that Shiva was stolen, the NGA would return it to India. "We would have to return it, there is no alternative," {gallery director] Mr Radford said. He said the gallery had documents to prove the history of Shiva's ownership before 1970, when a UNESCO convention was formed to prevent trade in stolen antiquities. This week he showed The Australian a printed summary of the statue's provenance, but not its details. [...] Mr Radford said a photograph purporting to be of the Suthamalli Shiva was different from the statue in the NGA. However, he conceded that documentation of Shiva's previous ownership could be fraudulent and that the statue could have been traded illegally. If the NGA has been a victim of fraud, it will seek financial restitution from Mr Kapoor. The gallery said that, as a precautionary measure, it had moved to be listed as a creditor of Mr Kapoor's company, Art of the Past.
I would also say if the Gallery's examination of the collecting history of the object shows that in the recent past it had been altered to obscure its origins (leading to the Gallery being defrauded) then the onus is on them to identify when, and by whom, those alterations were made and what connection that has with any seller they want to accuse.

Matthew Westwood, 'NGA to look into suspect statue', The Australian September 20, 2012

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