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Singapore museum may take action against New York art gallery

Press Trust of India  |  Singapore 

A state museum in Singapore today warned of legal action against a New York art gallery accused of selling stolen Asian artefacts, including from India.

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) said it was checking the origins of precious artworks in the national collection bought from disgraced Indian art dealer Subhash Kapoor.

The museum said it has been alerted through legal actions taken in the US courts to the possibility that two artefacts in that collection were sold illicitly by the gallery, the statement said.

US-based Kapoor is accused of smuggling antiquities worth more than USD 100 million from India into America, where he ran a now-defunct gallery in New York 'Art of the Past'.

The museum said that if any of the items it acquired from him are found to be stolen or looted, it will begin the process of returning them.

"Singapore's state museums, including the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), are bound by international law and ethical standards to acquire objects and works of art legally and ethically. As members of the International Council of Museums, we follow its code of ethics on the acquisition and display of objects," the museum said in a statement.

Over a 14-year period from 1997 to 2010, ACM purchased 30 objects from Art of the Past.

One is an Uma bronze sculpture acquired from the dealer in 2007 which may have been stolen from India. The second is a Virgin Mary and Christ altar acquired in 2009. The altar's provenance documents were allegedly forged by the dealer.

The Uma bronze and altar were purchased for USD 650,000 and USD 135,000 respectively. ACM has to-date received no information that the other 28 artefacts are of questionable provenance, the statement said.

ACM followed its acquisition procedures strictly and all possible checks were done on provenance at the point of purchase for the two artefacts. ACM believed at the point of purchase that they were legally and ethically acquired. During our last check in 2011 on the Uma sculpture, there was also no indication that the work was stolen, the statement said.

Following the recent court proceedings in New York against Art of the Past, new evidence has emerged that various state and private museums - including ACM - were the target of fraud by the gallery owner.

"We are monitoring the court proceedings in the US closely and will co-operate fully with foreign authorities on any investigation," the museum said.

First Published: Thu, January 09 2014. 19:31 IST