When a well-known dealer is arrested, what can a museum do in response – both to be diligent and to keep the institution’s best interests in mind? The guidelines of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) urge transparency, with AAM specifically recommending that member museums ‘make available the known ownership history of archaeological material and ancient art in their collections.’ To be well-positioned to respond to inquiries from law enforcement or the press, a museum should identify any objects in its collection that were acquired from Wiener and make their provenance information publicly available.

The Italian and other governments are becoming far more aggressive in seeking the repatriation of looted antiquities. Italy in particular waged a long legal battle against Getty curator of antiquities, Marion True, for acquiring illicitly exported pieces, although the case finally exhausted the statute of limitations. And in recent years numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries. These include the famed Etruscan Euphronios krater (wine bowl) dating from 515 BC and which was bought by the Met in 1972 for $1.2m. It turned out that this had also been handled by Medici, and the museum gave it back to Italy in 2006. Just this month, the Getty said it was returning a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament to the Greek Dionysiou monastery – from which it had disappeared more than 50 years ago.
Bonhams and Christie’s say that they had done research on their pieces, but were hampered by Italian authorities’ refusal to make the photographic database available to auction houses: “While we have a careful due diligence process in all other respects we have no way, without the co-operation of the Carabinieri, of checking this particular database. This case illustrates why that co-operation would be helpful,” said a spokesperson for Christie’s. As for the Roman statue, it was put on display in a New York art fair last year – but failed to sell. The US authorities are hoping to return it to Italy.

Subhash Kapoor was an Uttar Pradesh-born US citizen and had an antique gallery in New York. He had smuggled idols from India and Afghanistan. Kapoor is also an important link to an international smuggling racket. Interpol had acted upon a red corner notice and he was detained in Germany. He was extradited and faced trial in Chennai. Currently, he is locked up Trichy prison.


Seeking a permanent home for his collection of over 4,000 objects, in 1972 he welcomed an overture from the financially troubled Pasadena Museum of Modern Art. He ultimately assumed control and naming rights, and in 1974 it was renamed the Norton Simon Museum. In 1987, the University of California, Los Angeles, announced an "agreement in principle" with Simon for the transfer to the university of the art collection owned by two Simon foundations – the Norton Simon Foundation and the Norton Simon Art Foundation.[10] The plan was to keep most of collection in Pasadena, administered by UCLA, the Simon board and the Norton Simon Foundation. The university was to build a separate museum facility on campus for part of the collection.[11] However, Simon withdrew his offer three months after the announcement was made.[12]

“Further, 232 objects comprising of brass and copper alloys, gold with enamel work, silver, stone and terracotta in possession of the Indian consulate were also inspected by the ASI officials. Among them, few were identified as antiquities, like the stone image of the Buddha of Mathura School, a terracotta image of the Buddha belonging to the Gupta period and a set of 10 copper plates engraved with Quranic verses of the late Mughal Period,” the ASI said.

Thanks to the extraordinary value of art these days, supported by the need of the 1% to fill their homes with grand works, it is hardly surprising that criminals are attracted to this market. But let me suggest that current 3D printing technology may reduce the value of original art by allowing true “museum-quality” reproductions to be created at prices far below the cost of original or smuggled art, reducing the theft problem, while also allowing museums to expand their collections in an affordable way.
“If it is true that they’ve succeeded... by some clandestine means,” NASA’s assistant administrator for public affairs, Julian Scheer, said in 1969, “I hope that the work represents the best in contemporary American art.”Indeed, each artist’s contribution to the Moon Museum is representative of his own signature style. On the top register, Warhol’s tongue-in-cheek depiction of his initials in the guise of a penis is positioned next to a crude line by Rauschenberg and Novros’s black square marked by angular lines. Below, a Mickey Mouse drawing by Oldenburg is flanked by Myers’s serpentine abstraction and Chamberlain’s circuit-like diagram. Existing in fewer than 20 editions, including one now owned by the Museum of Modern Art, the Moon Museum is also one of the 1960s’ rarest multiples.

The looting and illicit export of art treasures is not a new problem. It’s happened whenever there have been armed conflicts during which victorious troops plundered churches, temples and other buildings. Germany carried out massive looting in World War II. By the start of the 21st Century the trade in illicit antiquities had become so huge it was worth billions of dollars each year and was the biggest international crime outside drug and arms trafficking according to The New York Times. When a piece is stolen, the consequence for scholars is tragic, because essential information about the piece – where it was found, what else was with it – is lost forever.

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