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Tenth-century bronze sculpture of the god Revanta that Subhash Kapoor gave to the Met in 2003. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met Investigates Provenance of Artworks Acquired from Dealer Suspected of Smuggling

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is reviewing objects in its collection that were purchased or gifted to the institution over the course of three decades from a now-disgraced dealer who has been accused of running one of the largest antiquities-smuggling rings in the world. According to the New York Times, around fifteen artifacts acquired by the museum were once in the possession of former Manhattan dealer Subhash Kapoor, who was charged with eighty-six felony counts—ranging from grand larceny to possession of stolen property and conspiracy to defraud—in a New York City criminal court last month.

Most of the items—which include a set of first-century terracotta rattles in the likeness of the spirit Yaksha, a twelfth-century copper-alloy statue of the deity Shiva, and an eleventh-century sandstone statue of a celestial dancer—came from Kapoor’s gallery, Art of the Past on Madison Avenue, or a dealer who bought them from the gallery before Kapoor’s arrest in 2011. Kapoor was detained in Germany following a years-long investigation into his activities and was extradited to India in 2012, where he remains behind bars as he awaits trial. United States Homeland Security officers have since seized more than 2,500 objects from warehouses owned or controlled by Kapoor.

The Indian government had pressured the Met to investigate the provenance of works in its holdings that were connected to Kapoor years ago, but the museum did not take action because it did not believe its objects were among those thought to have been looted by the dealer or his associates. The museum has since backpedaled: “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 said in a statement.

Restitution discussions between the Indian government and the Met began last year, after the institution returned two objects that had problematic provenances. Other American museums that have been researching artifacts that can be traced to Kapoor include the Toledo Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.