The Metropolitan Museum is reviewing the 15 objects it received from an alleged smuggler.
The Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum. Photo by WestportWiki, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Indian government officials are currently reviewing 15 Indian artifacts in the museum’s collection that came through Subhash Kapoor, a former Manhattan art dealer accused of running a smuggling ring. The artifacts sold or gifted to the Met by Kapoor include a set of first-century terra-cotta rattles and a sandstone celestial dancer from the 11th century. Most of the items arrived at the Met before Kapoor was arrested in Germany in 2011; he was sent to India to await trial on smuggling charges in 2012.
“As we have since learned of the multiple law enforcement actions, and in the spirit of our enhanced procedures over recent years, we are now seeking to identify additional provenance information,” the Met told the New York Times in a statement.
When charges were initially brought against Kapoor, the Met did not deem it necessary to review its collection, but museum officials later reversed that position.
Last month, Kapoor was charged with 86 felony counts in New York. According to a complaint filed by the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Kappor and seven co-conspirators were involved with smuggling over $143 million out of Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand over the course of 30 years. Around 2,600 artifacts valued at over $107 million have already been seized by authorities, while another 39 objects valued at $36 million are still missing. Since Kapoor’s 2011 arrest, at least 10 museums, including the Toledo Museum of Art and the Honolulu Museum of Art, have repatriated items connected to him.
In its collections management policy, the Met states: “The Museum will thoroughly research the ownership history of any archaeological materials or ancient art prior to its acquisition, including making a rigorous effort to obtain accurate written documentation with respect to its history, including import and export documents.” Last August, the Met returned two sculptures to the Indian government, though neither item appeared to be linked to Kapoor.
The Indian government is currently trying to recover tens of thousands of artifacts that have been looted from the country in the past half-century. UNESCO has calculated that over 50,000 items have been stolen from India, though officials may never be able to agree on an exact number.