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.
3. Ferromagnetic detectors are becoming a favorite in the contraband smuggling and detection field. The cell phone does not need to be turned on for the detection to happen. The detector picks up the electromagnetic field generated by any mobile phone – even OFF and with the battery removed. The downside is the range is short and sometimes less than a foot.
We can now reveal more information as to why the museum has changed its stand, with information obtained from persons who are in the know of the Kapoor operations. The bronze has an apparent provenance paper authored by the previous owner Dr. Leo S. Figiel dated April 13, 2005, where he claims to have purchased “the small Chola figure of Shiva and Parvati – from a European collector in 1969”. (Dr. Leo Figiel, was a well known collector of Indian vernacular art ( is now deceased – died Feb 2013) and is now suspected of having a working arrangement with Subhash Kapoor’s activities.)
But Scotland Yard were onto him, and he was arrested while awaiting delivery of large importation. He skipped bail and fled abroad, fitted out a wooden ketch, loaded it with a ton-and-a-half of cannabis resin and crossed the Atlantic, using a sextant and dead reckoning. He eventually sailed up the Hudson and unloaded to a New York distributor, only to be caught in chase through the streets of Manhattan and sentenced to six years in a penitentiary.
In addition to this, the Consulate showed the team 327 objects, out of which 251 were found to be historically important antiques. This also contained the 56 terracotta objects returned by the Toledo Museum (Ohio) which was originally gifted to them by Subhash Kapoor. A majority of the terracotta belonged to Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, a prominent site of terracotta art in the first decade, CE. The rest comprised terracotta objects of Harappan culture and of the Gupta period.
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.
We keep finding such buried treasures routinely to this day in South India. Such discoveries yield multiple centuries old bronzes. Some constitute entire bronze sets from temples – buried to prevent them from the onslaught of iconoclasts in the mid 14th century. We might never know where this particular bronze work of Alingana Murthy was found. We might never know if any other bronze works were found along with it and smuggled out of India.
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.
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.