When is Art a Crime?

An antiquities dealer and owner of Art of the Past Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York City, Subhash Kapoor, was arrested in Germany on Oct. 30, 2011 and extradited to India in July of the following year. Kapoor then faced charges of illegal exportation, criminal conspiracy and forgery, according to the Toledo Museum of Ohio’s Provenance Research team. Kapoor pleaded not guilty to trafficking $100 million in stolen artifacts.

The artifacts are presumed stolen from ancient Indian temples. Recently museums in America, Australia, the Far East and Europe have began returning pieces they bought from Kapoor. One of the multiple international museums investigating the authenticity of the artifacts bought from Kapoor is The Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, which returned a Ganesha statue worth $245,000 that was purchased from Kapoor in 2006.

This statue of the Ganesha, one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu religion, is among 63 objects which are currently under investigation at the museum for possible return to India.

“He certainly conned a lot of people,” the Director of Toledo Museum Brian Kennedy said in a New York Times article.

The Ganesha closely resembled photographs of an idol which was stolen from the Sripuranthan Village in Tamil Nadu, India. These photographs were from a copy of an Indian Police Report which the Toledo Museum received on July 18, 2013.

American museums in talks with federal investigators concerning pieces they purchased from Kapoor include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

“The ones that could be suspect were looked into and at the moment we are convinced that they are O.K.,” Miranda Carroll, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles museum, said in a New York Times article.

The federal investigation is entitled Operation Hidden Idol, of which began officially in 2012 after Kapoor’s arrest. Raids on Kapoor’s gallery in New York City as well as several warehouses where he stored Indian antiquities were executed. According to the New York Times, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations, of which are jointly directing the investigation, said they had seized tens of millions of dollars worth of objects that they believed were looted from ancient temples in India.

According to Brenton M. Easter, the special agent in charge of Operation Hidden Idol for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, museums that have not yet been contacted for investigation who have purchased from Kapoor must anticipate contact. Stephan Jost, director of the Honolulu Museum, said in a New York Times article that the fact that these artifacts were stolen, makes them tainted art and undesirable to have in their museum whose mission is not in accordance to such crime.

Museums which exhibit beautiful artifacts from the past possess a positive connotation of the admiration for history. However, stolen artifacts lose this value, as they are not rightfully placed. It is on these grounds that all museums with artifacts from Kapoor are urged to come forward and return the artifacts to their respective homes in India

Information from this article is credited to The New York Times, The Toldeo Museum Website, and Chasing Aphrodite, a website that monitors the Kapoor case.