Saturday 29 June 2013

Review leaves gallery exposed over Indian artefacts

The Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney in Australia has left itself open to claims from the Indian authorities for return of several ancient sculptures in its collections after internal gallery investigations revealed they lacked any documentation to establish proper collecting histories (Michaela Boland, 'Review leaves gallery exposed over Indian artefacts', The Australian June 29, 2013).

Three items bought from Subhash Kapoor when Edmund Capon was gallery director are of questionable origins:
a) "a 1100-year-old West Bengal phyllite plaque" on display in the upper Asian gallery and bought in 2004, "was most likely removed from a niche outside a temple".
b) "two 2200-year-old terracotta sculptures" bought in 1999 and 1994 respectively, one is described as a rattle in the form of a lady playing the drum - "the gallery's notes say it was probably excavated from Chandraketugarh, in West Bengal".
The Weekend Australian has obtained copies of documents Kapoor supplied to the NGA which purport to establish the collecting history of five of those items. Well-placed sources have assured The Weekend Australian those documents are forgeries. Australia passed legislation in 1986 making items liable to forfeiture if foreign countries establish they had been illegally removed. Heritage legal expert Patrick O'Keefe said since that time, institutions were risking losing their collections if they acquired items without papers. "Trustees need to be sure the provenance of objects museum staff recommend for purchase have been thoroughly researched," he said. 
The newspaper reported that it was finding it difficult contacting present and past Gallery directors and trustees, they all somehow beecame unavailable for comment.

Subhash Kapoor is said in the article to have "stocked almost a third of all the artefacts in the Indian art collection" in Canberra's National Gallery of Australia. 

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