Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Yale Museum Surrenders Items as Part of Art Looting Investigation

Law enforcement officials have seized 13 artifacts from the Yale University Art Gallery that they say were looted. Many of those, the authorities said, are part of an ongoing investigation into Subhash Kapoor, a former Madison Avenue art dealer accused of being one of the world’s most prolific antiquities smugglers.

Yale acknowledged the seizure Thursday with a posting on the museum’s website that said it had delivered the items on Wednesday to the Manhattan attorney’s office, which is the district conducting the investigation in tandem with US Homeland Security Investigations.

“Yale was glad to work cooperatively with the DA’s Office in this important matter,” the university’s statement said.

Kapoor, who once ran a respected Manhattan gallery known as Art of the Past, has been incarcerated in India since 2011 on charges of theft, smuggling and trafficking more than 2,500 South Asian artifacts. He faces similar charges in New York, where officials have accused him of running a multinational ring that over more than 30 years traded in illicit objects valued at more than $145 million. His extradition to the United States will be sought after the criminal case in India is resolved.

Officials with Homeland Security Investigations and the Manhattan district attorney’s office said they could not discuss the full parameters of the investigation. But Homeland Security released a statement that described most of the artifacts from Yale as being “connected to either Subhash Kapoor or his overseas suppliers.”

The agency valued the 13 objects at $1.29 million.

Matthew Bogdanos, chief of the district attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, released a statement saying the office had identified nine of the 13 antiquities at Yale as having been illegally trafficked by Kapoor.

“With the assistance of our partners in India, we also identified two antiquities at Yale that had been stolen from temples,” he said.

Of the artifacts, nine had been donated to Yale by the Rubin-Ladd Foundation, which has donated works to multiple museums and makes grants to cultural and educational organizations.

The Yale museum, founded in 1832 and recognized as the oldest university art museum in America, has nearly 300,000 items in its collection, according to its website. Other museums that have returned items with links to Kapoor include the National Gallery of Australia, the Toledo Museum of Art and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Vijay Kumar, the founder of an India-based organization that tracks stolen artifacts and who has been working with investigators, said that, although Yale had received gifts before Kapoor’s arrest, the university should have done more to investigate their provenance after the art world became aware of the extent of looting of Indian artifacts. Investigators said several of the items Yale received as gifts had a provenance that included Kapoor’s gallery.

“How can you buy or keep Indian art this long without full provenance and when you know about Kapoor and the history of theft from India,” said Kumar, whose group is called the India Pride Project.

Asked to address the extent of its provenance research, Yale did not comment. But the university had listed some of the items on a section of its website that reports works in the collection that had gaps in provenance.

Its statement Thursday said: “Yale University, having been presented with information indicating that works of art in its collections were stolen from their countries of origin, delivered the works on March 30, 2022 to the New York District Attorney’s Office, which will coordinate the objects’ repatriation later this year.”

Among the items seized by investigators was a 10th-century sandstone statue of Kubera, a god of wealth, that investigators valued at $550,000. Yale acquired it in 2011 as a gift from the Rubin-Ladd Foundation.

A second item that was surrendered was a marble arch, known as a Parikara, from the 12th or 13th century, and valued at $85,000. It was donated in 2007, also by the foundation.

Representatives of the foundation could not be immediately reached for comment. The foundation listed assets of nearly $6.8 million on its most recent publicly available tax return, which it filed last year. The Smithsonian and the New York Public Library were recorded as two of 23 organizations that received a total of $126,500 in grants, according to the return.

Twelve of the artifacts are originally from India and one is from Burma, investigators said.

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