Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 14- Mystery of the color changing Nataraja

The Art world is all excited about the outcome of the trail. But there are some interesting questions that keep coming up. We look at one such ” uncomfortable question” today.

We have seen earlier the details of Sripuranthan Nataraja and Sivagami.

It is pertinent here to point out that the actual theft happened at the Sripuranthan temple – the bronzes from Suthamalli temple were brought to Sripuranthan for safe keeping !!

Thanks to the works of Chasing Aphrodite we now know that the robbers took pictures of the Nataraja immediately after the theft when it was in a ” safe” house in Tamil Nadu before it was shipped out.

We also have updated photos of the Nataraja currently on display at the NGA

Even to a lay man the question will come up – how did the Nataraja change color. The greenish color is due to oxidation – and in bronzes it is called Patina. It is something that supposedly gives bronzes the antique look and is said to be a aesthetically pleasing and hence preferable condition. The Patina also prevents further corrosion of the bronze if properly formed aka done. Now naturally formed Patina takes years to happen and usually found in bronzes which have been buried underground and will never be seen in Temple bronzes which have been subjected to continuous worship with daily ablutions. Now, some ” experts” may argue that these temples were in ruined condition and might not have taken care of their bronzes.

This is where another crucial piece of evidence turns up. His consort.

These photos are from Art of Past 2008 Catalog – the same year the NGA acquired the Nataraja. So its clear that the Nataraja would have been the same bronze color without patina.

So how did the Nataraja change color – attain Patina – yes, Patina can be artificially added thanks to today’s technology. There are chemical and physical means to impart which color you want and you practically order it when you want to commission a new bronze – green, black or Gold !!

The next question is – is there a difference in the chemical composition of a natural patina compared to one that is artificially applied. The answer is Yes and under a microscope its easy to spot the difference. In this case being a multi million dollar purchase must have been one of the first tests done by the gallery atleast to ensure they are buying a 1000 year old artifact and not a recently cast bronze.

Now the quality of this execution is important as a amateur working on such a ” priceless” piece might cause irreparable damage – in the past ( by that we mean in the case of the Pathur and the Sivapuram Nataraja ) the bronzes are sent to a country where there are expert conservators to do this job – UK !!

Now to read more into this, take a look at the case papers. Subhash Chandra Kapoor vs Inspector Of Police on 3 April, 2012

The said idols were presented before the Sea Customs Authority, Chennai so as to export it to xxxxxxxx Gallery and was cleared by customs on 6.3.2008 and were exported by ship to Hong Kong. They were further redirected to one xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Company at U.K. by direction from the petitioner. “

The same company is named in this newspaper report

Maybe the Nataraja changed color in UK??

The other question is why was the Patina applied only for the Nataraja and not to his consort? Was it customized?

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 13- the plight of the abandoned Toledo Ganesha

If ever there is a term for heights of negligence – this would be it !! No further proof is required for the utter disregard for our great Nation’s cultural treasures by the so called Custodians. We had broken the news of the Sripuranthan stolen Ganesha currently in the Toledo Museum previously.

Earlier today we also brought out the other dubious exhibit – Pala dynasty Varaha

But now we have a statement from the Museum

Subhash Kapoor Acquisitions Under Review

Subhash Kapoor, a second generation antiquities dealer and owner of Art of the Past Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York City, was arrested in Germany on Oct. 30, 2011 and extradited to India on July 14, 2012 to face charges of illegal exportation, criminal conspiracy and forgery. Art of the Past was in business for 35 years, selling Asian antiquities to a large roster of Museum clients, including the Toledo Museum of Art.

The Toledo Museum of Art, like many museums across the country, acquired objects from Mr. Kapoor in the period from 2001-2010. The most significant of the eight acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art from Mr. Kapoor is a Ganesha figure. After the 2006 Ganesha purchase, Mr. Kapoor gifted 56 small terracotta idols to the Museum. The purchased items have been on public display. The gifted items have never been on public display.

On July 18, 2013 the Museum received a copy of an Indian police report that includes photographs of 18 metal idols stolen from Sripuranthan Village in Tamil Nadu. One of the images of a Ganesha figure closely resembles the Ganesha purchased by the Museum in 2006 from Art of the Past. At the time of purchase consideration, the Museum received a provenance affidavit and the curator personally spoke to the listed previous owner. The object was also run through the Art Loss Registry with no issues detected.

On July 24, 2013 TMA Director Brian Kennedy sent a letter to the Consulate General of India in New York, Mr. Sugandh Rajaram, requesting his assistance in researching the Ganesha’s provenance with Indian officials. To date, the Museum has received no response. On February 17, 2014 a letter was sent to Dr. S. Jaishanka, Ambassador of India to the United States, soliciting his assistance. The Museum has not been contacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or any other U.S. or foreign government agency in regards to this object and others the Museum purchased from Art of the Past or gifted by Mr. Kapoor.”

The statement also gives the copies of the letters sent by the Museum to the Consulate General of India New York on July 24 !!! which they did not receive any RESPONSE

They followed up with a letter to the Ambassador of India, Washington DC on Feb 14th

It is beyond doubt that we are talking of the same bronze

The Photos in original resolution ( captured by the IFP Pondicherry team in 1994) have been with the Indian Police since 2009 !! How long does it take for the wheels of our official Machinery to move? Or have they decided to abandon the Ganesha as they did with the Sivapuram Somaskanda.

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 12- will museums come clean with provenances

Way back in July 2012 came this piece in the NY Times

“Federal authorities are asking American museums to scrutinize their collections for items that they have obtained from a veteran Manhattan art dealer now accused of possessing antiquities stolen from India and other countries. “

Much water has flowed under the bridge since – what this scrutinize means is subject to interpretation but major galleries and museums have since received the PROOF they sought that they were indeed displaying looted objects. But has enough been done? Until they have their backs to the wall none of them are coming up on their own and disclosing their dealings with the now defunct gallery. If these dealings were not shady shouldn’t they own up and come out in the open with their dealings with the accused dealer – give a list of objects they purchased from the gallery and place on record their respective provenances ( for all that is worth). Why wait for indictments and trails before owning up? Maybe there is still hope that they might get away ?? maybe they have confidence in the lax nature of Indian Authorities and their scant followup ?

Let us start with the Toledo Museum. We have already shown how they have the Ganesha – from the looted temple with authentic proof. Yet we know nothing of how they came into possession of this bronze nor is there any talk of restitution.

We have since found one more exhibit of theirs coming from Art of Past – a Pala Period Varaha

The object number seems to indicate it was purchased in 2001 (Object Number: 2001.14)

Will the museum come forward and provide details of the provenance for this piece ( we are hoping it was not purchased from a diplomat who was stationed in delhi and bought it from a art shop in 1969 !!)

Another object which matches to the Art of the past Catalog is this Lingothbhava ( shiva) in the Birmingham Museum of Art purchased in the year 2008.

The comparison is pretty straight forward

Museums are in essence Institutions of higher learning and we expect them to understand and respect cultural heritage. Their role is to open the minds of the public to the past and inspire younger minds in the pursuit of art history and in that very cause is enshrined a certain noble intention. We hope museums will set an example and live up to the expected higher moral and ethical standards – innocent purchase of looted objects is a mistake – but after knowing that they are tainted, trying to hide casts aspersions on the intent.

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 11- why no action yet

The next post in the ongoing explosive series is going to expand the operating area of this loot and also focus on the official apathy – ” Do we really value our cultural treasures?’ is the larger question.

The internet is a great tool and it threw up this vital clue for me. I had chanced on a website and a casual glance made me aware of the pain that the author expressed in his efforts. I only wish more such souls spring up and do not just stop at voicing their concerns but do something concrete to stop this rampant loot.

The 3rd alert caught my attention. I reproduce the entire contents here

“On 8 February and 1 March 2013 E-mails were sent out about four sculptures stolen from the centrally protected site of Kari Talai in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh.

These four are among the nine sculptures that were stolen from the Vishnu Varaha temple on 16/17 August 2006. Out of these nine, INTERPOL issued an alert about the torso of a Vishnu, resulting in its interception by the US Homeland Security Investigations; the others remain untraced and may have appeared in the art market.

In this present E-mail, two more sculptures are being reported, a Shalabhanjika and a female figure. The Shalabhanjika (No. KTI 99) is a young woman standing under a tree; and the female figure (No. KTI 258) alluringly removes a thorn from her foot or paints the sole of the foot, supported by a dwarfish woman. Both are universal motifs in Indian art since ancient period.

Kari Talai was an important centre under the Haihayas or Kalachuris of Tripuri or the Jabalpur area, where places of worship of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Jainism and Buddhism were built. The temple of Vishnu’s Boar incarnation here is a large complex of the eleventh century, under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Photographs attached to this mail are supplied by the ASI’s Bhopal Circle.

First information Report was lodged at the Vijayraghavgarh police station, No. 157/06 of 17 August 2006.

From E-mails sent out earlier regarding Bilhari in the same area it is clear that vandals are striking in this region frequently.

Kari Talai is a centrally protected site. ASI has records of all these sculptures. One who perpetrated or sponsored this crime should know that he cannot fabricate a false provenance for the pieces whose pictures are now going into wide circulation.

If any museum, private collector or dealer has acquired these sculptures, they are exhorted to give up possession, inform INTERPOL, their local police, India’s diplomatic missions or the ASI. If anyone, within India or outside, has received these pieces even in ignorance of the clandestine nature of their removal, he knows now that they are stolen antiquities, and they may have been smuggled out in violation of the Indian laws and international conventions.
The addresses of the ASI are on their website www.asi.nic.in.

In the past, stolen and smuggled antiquities were traced with the support of conscientious individuals like you, or by the security agencies. If you co-operate, these remaining eight sculptures can also be traced, as was done in the case of the Vishnu torso, and be repatriated. One way in which you can support this effort is to save this mail, and others that you will receive, in a dedicated folder and forward them to your contacts. Some scholars are already doing this.

Thanking you, and hoping your support will continue,

K. Mankodi”

The image was vaguely familiar and to my surprise i found it in one of the Art of the Past Catalogs

There is no doubt that they are one and the same – and means the accused gallery dealt with plundered loot from an ASI site.

We understand that this sculpture is currently seized by US ICE and waiting for some steps from India side for restitution !!

We wonder what more does it take to make our authorities to act. For since the news of the arrest of the accused dealer the art world is closely following this case. Recently we have traced this sculpture from one of the Art of the Past advertisements being sold on auction in Cristies.

The auction site lists

“Pre-Lot Text


Acquired in New York, 1998 ”

We are going to increasingly see buyers offloading their spurious collections in this manner.

The call is for urgent action to widen the net and rope in more resources to trace all the suspect works.

We will see where some of the defamed gallery’s pieces are still adorning museums across the world in the coming posts.