For the third time recently, an acquisition by the Toledo Museum of Art is the subject of a federal probe.
The museum was contacted just over a week ago by the U.S. Justice Department regarding a bronze figure it purchased from Subhash Kapoor, a second-generation antiques dealer and owner of Art of the Past Gallery in New York City. He is facing trial in India on charges of illegal exportation, conspiracy, and forgery.
The investigation is in its very early stages, Kelly Garrow, communications director for TMA, said, adding that the museum will cooperate fully.
“We’ve been asked to submit some documents, and we’ve complied with that request,” Ms. Garrow said.
Questioned is a bronze statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh, known as the Ganesha, on display in the Asian Sculpture Gallery. The museum acquired the figure in 2006 from Mr. Kapoor, who later gave 56 small terracotta idols to the museum. The museum also bought seven other pieces from Mr. Kapoor between 2001 and 2010.
Ms. Garrow would not disclose the items’ price but said the clay objects were not display quality. A New York Times report says the museum bought the Ganesha for $245,000.
Museums don’t carry insurance against the loss of pieces discovered to be stolen goods, said Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art.
“If you buy from a dealer, the dealer would warrant the work was clear of any encumbrance,” he said. This dealer, though, is in custody in India, he said.
The National Gallery of Australia filed a suit in December against Mr. Kapoor in New York state.
Mr. Kennedy said that such legal action against someone in Mr. Kapoor’s straits was unlikely to be productive.
The museum has not been asked to turn over the Ganesha, which closely resembles a figure listed as stolen in an Indian police report.
The item is one of 18 metal idols missing from a village in Tamil Nadu, a state in southeast India. The museum’s Web site says the Indian police department sent the museum copies of the report along with photos of the looted goods in July.
Carolyn Putney has been chief curator and Asian art curator at the museum since 2001. The museum insists it did adequate research before buying the disputed piece.
“At the time of consideration, the museum received a provenance affidavit, and the curator personally spoke to the listed previous owner,” the statement says. “The object was also run through the Art Loss Registry with no issues detected.”
In its almost 114-year history, the museum has returned two unwittingly ill-gained objects.
A 2,500 year-old water jug, housed at the museum for 30 years, was the object of a long investigation after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents determined it had been looted from Italy. The museum returned the piece in 2012.
In February, 2011, a mermaid holding a candy dish, the Nereid Sweetmeat Stand, was returned to the Dresden Museum in Germany. It had been stolen during World War II.
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