Second artefact of questionable origin surfaces at Asian Civilisations Museum

Second artefact of questionable origin surfaces at Asian Civilisations Museum

SINGAPORE - The Virgin Mary and Christ altar, acquired by the museum from Art of the Past gallery in 2009 for US$135,000 (S$171,500), allegedly had documents on its origins forged by the gallery's disgraced dealer Subhash Kapoor.

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Here is the full statement from the Asian Civilisation Museum:

Statement on the purchases of objects from Art of the Past Gallery

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.

Over a 14-year period from 1997 to 2010, ACM purchased 30 objects from Art of the Past, an established gallery in New York which had sold artefacts to reputable museums around the world.

ACM has been alerted through legal actions taken in the US courts to the possibility that two artefacts among these purchases were sold illicitly by the gallery. 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 US$650,000 and US$135,000 respectively. ACM has to-date received no information that the other 28 artefacts are of questionable provenance.

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.

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.

We will take all necessary steps, in accordance with international laws and practice, to return any stolen or looted objects among the 30 artefacts purchased from Art of the Past. NHB is also considering legal action and is currently in consultation with our lawyers on the possibility of recovering funds obtained through the fraudulent sale of objects by Art of the Past.


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