One of the toughest cases to crack for the group was that of the Alingana Murthy from the Ball State Museum. In July 2015, the group broke the story of the Ball State University Museum of Art’s acquisition of the Chola Bronze Alingana Murthy – Shiva embracing his consort Parvathy. This exquisite piece of art, at least a millennium old, was ‘acquired’ through Subhash Kapoor’s smuggling network.
It is a very pretentious title, but yeah I was a big-time smuggler. I was very ambitious. It all started to get serious when I went to Russia after Beirut. In Russia the art smugglers all worked together so that they could have their claws in many different countries overseas. So if you were "in the game" and a promising prospect like I probably was and had contacts with one clan, you could have contacts with all the clans. I was involved in a big way because I knew all the people and could reach out to them. I could get to the countries behind the iron curtain. I was also dealing with VIPs. Don't think this was some kind of scumbag organization-we were dealing with people who were very high up on the political ladder. All you had to do was make sure everybody had his cut.
Michel: Well, by the time I was 15 I had been kicked out of seven schools. I must have been ADHD or whatever, because I fucking hated school and was always looking to start something for myself. So I began importing cheap hippie coats from Istanbul. They were basically sheepskins turned inside out with some sleeves on them. I began selling them in this hashish bar in Holland. They sold like fucking hotcakes. So I was going up and down between Istanbul and Holland quite a lot. Business was going well, and I was eventually approached in Istanbul by a man named E.
Morland came out to find his profits had gone. Old friends shunned him and the family firm went bust. So for the next thirty years he became a professional smuggler, plying his trade across the Mediterranean, shifting tons of hash from Berber tribesmen to gangland heavies and alternating between periods of sudden wealth and bleak incarceration. In 1980, 1990 and again in 2000 he was caught and jailed for long terms. Now he lives in ‘pretty good poverty’ teaching pottery classes. This is his amazing story.
It was, but things changed later when I went to the Jos Plateau in Nigeria. I saw these incredible Nok terracotta heads that they bury in the graves for their ancestors. They were potentially million-dollar pieces and I was there to buy them. But then I met the people-the Jos Plateau is very cold at night so we sat around campfires-and they hardly had anything to eat, yet they sit up all night to protect their ancestor's culture from vultures who want to come and dig and steal and kill to get the terracottas. That touches your heart. You can't deal with those things. You don't want to have people dying for art. It was all just a game, but then I was on top of that hill and suddenly confronted with reality. If that doesn't change you, you aren't a human being.
Regardless of how a museum shares information about provenance, the most important goal is to be as forthcoming and accurate as possible. To that end, documenting an object’s provenance may involve not just tracing its history of ownership (what do we know?), but also recording the sources of that information (how do we know it?), and noting the differences between verified and unverified data. Information about provenance can come from verbal statements, circumstantial evidence, or attestations provided by a seller or donor that have not been (and often cannot be) corroborated. Museum records should reflect these uncertainties and any vague or hypothetical statements.
Prosecutors said in the complaint that Hobby Lobby, whose evangelical Christian owners have long maintained an interest in the biblical Middle East, began in 2009 to assemble a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent. The company went so far as to send its president and an antiquities consultant to the United Arab Emirates to inspect a large number of rare cuneiform tablets — traditional clay slabs with wedge-shaped writing that originated in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.
The reality is, the presence of the Moon Museum in outer space has yet to be confirmed by subsequent lunar missions. It may even sound like something ripped from the pages of a pulp science fiction novel, or from the annals of conspiracy theories, rather than art-historical fact. But if we are to believe the telegram Myers received two days before the Apollo 12 launch, “‘YOUR ON’ A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO,” signed “JOHN F,” our planet’s nearest satellite may also be the most distant museum in our universe.
The first object Greene donated, in 2003, to the Honolulu Academy of Arts, whose holdings are shown at the Honolulu Art Museum, was an 11th-century Cambodian sculpture. After the work was delivered to the museum on time and received in good condition, the museum struck up a deal the following year that Greene would receive an $80,000 annuity for the rest of his life. The museum made this deal because Greene had offered to loan 37 more objects under the condition that he could provide sufficient provenance information.
With the growing profits from Hunt Foods, he began buying stock in other undervalued companies with growth potential, many of which were still undervalued following the loss of confidence in equities after the Great Depression. He diversified through acquisition into well known businesses such as McCall's Publishing, the Saturday Review of Literature, Canada Dry Corporation, Max Factor cosmetics, the television production company Talent Associates, and Avis Car Rental, through his holding company Norton Simon Inc. (Norton Simon Inc. was formed in 1968 through the merger of Hunt Foods, McCalls Publishing and Canada Dry Corporation.) Many of these businesses had extensive interests outside the United States. Norton Simon Inc. was later acquired by Esmark in 1983, which merged with Beatrice Foods the next year. Beatrice was sold to ConAgra in 1990.
Two officials, Dr Urmila Sant and P.S. Sriraman, visited the US after receiving information from the Consulate General of India in New York about the seizure of artefacts by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of U.S. Department of Homeland Security from the storage of the art smuggler Subhash Kapoor. Close to 100 objects have been identified by the ASI team.
When this worked fine, he could hardly contain his joy, and when he couldn't hear any activity noise outside, at last, he sighed in relief. This didn't last long tho. This damn driver started blasting some of the worst pop songs ever made on the radio... and singing along. Real loud. He could only suffer in silence as music that was terrible even by teenage girls standards drilled into his ears. As for the singing, he was so far off.
Look, I've been shot at on three separate occasions, I've had guns on my head, I've had police chasing me... To survive I have been a chameleon. As you know, I speak many languages. Also, I'm not attached to anything. It's like living near a fault line-if you hear a noise, pack your things and get the fuck out of there. Don't become too accustomed to anything. I can sleep like a baby on a little field bed.
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.
Instead, on the instructions of a second dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payments to seven separate personal bank accounts, the prosecutors said. The first dealer then shipped the items marked as clay or ceramic tiles to three Hobby Lobby sites in Oklahoma. All of the packages had labels falsely identifying their country of origin as Turkey, prosecutors said.
We went with the police and about 20 Nigerians into the gallery the day before the opening. There were all of these fucking posh people sipping champagne, and in we came to shut it down. You should've seen their fucking jaws! I made a statement: "Don't touch the heritage of these people!" And it's not that I was a white knight-not at all. But I began to come across certain things that I just couldn't step over.
Though NASA never technically rejected the Moon Museum, they didn’t exactly approve it either. Myers was unable to get the agency to officially commit to his project, so instead he devised a Plan B. After contacting the non-profit organization Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), which strove to connect engineers and artists for projects involving new technologies, he made contact with scientist Fred Waldhauer of Bell Laboratories, himself a founding member of E.A.T. Using techniques typically employed to create telephone circuits, scientists at Bell etched the six artists’ drawings onto an iridium-plated ceramic chip the size of a postage stamp. Waldhauer then convinced an engineer at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation who was working on the lunar lander to attach the chip to its leg, hiding it within the layers of gold insulation blankets wrapped around the spacecraft.
Uncovering a stolen object offers a museum the valuable if bittersweet opportunity to examine its past collection practices. Pinpointing exactly how that object slipped through the cracks can help ensure other stolen objects will not slide by in the future. While there is no failsafe way to avoid mistakes completely, there are concrete steps that can be taken to increase diligence before an acquisition is made. In particular, museums should draw a distinction between objects that are securely documented and those that are ‘said to be’ from a particular collection. Many of the objects Wiener sold, now under investigation, supposedly came from private European owners but had no real paper trail. Some of the sculptures that both she and Kapoor handled, which are alleged to have been stolen, were accompanied by signed declarations that they were outside their countries of origin before 1970. These attestations are now believed to be false. Verbal and written statements do not carry the same weight as documentation in an exhibition catalogue, sale record, or archival material.
The India Pride Project, a volunteer group set up after the Indian governments’ shoddy investigations and lame attempts to bring back smuggled art treasures frustrated, has taken to social media and online activism. Over the last four years, this group has painstakingly built a volunteer sourced image archive of Indian art works now being housed in overseas museums and art auction houses.
Still swirling around the market are persistent rumours that there is even more to the treasure than the known 14 pieces. Archaeologists claim that such finds always include spoons and coins, which were missing when the pieces started coming onto the market. Many believe they are still languishing in Swiss bank vaults, with the owner(s) waiting for the provenance issues to be cleared up entirely. It is to be ardently hoped that one day the whole hoard, in all its magnificence, will be returned to Hungary to be displayed together once again.