This 10th-century statue of Kubera was turned over by Yale University Art Gallery to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. (courtesy the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office)

Upon receipt of a warrant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DA) last week, the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut relinquished more than a dozen antiquities identified as looted from India and Burma. The 13 artifacts, the bulk of which have been linked to disgraced New York antiquities dealers or their suppliers, are valued at $1.29 million in total and include a 10th-century sandstone statue of Kubera from Uttar Pradesh and a 12th- or 13th-century Parikara, or marble arch, from Rajasthan.

The Yale University Art Gallery — which boasts a collection of nearly 300,000 objects, 165 of which it has identified as having provenance gaps — “cooperated fully,” the Manhattan DA said in a statement. A post on the museum’s website said of the seizure: “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.”

Yale did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic’s inquiry regarding what provenance information the university was already aware of, and what information was new.

Nine of the objects seized from Yale were identified as having been trafficked by Subhash Kapoor, a former Manhattan gallery owner who is the subject of one of the most significant antiquities trafficking cases in the United States. Kapoor placed unprovenanced and illicitly acquired artifacts in prestigious collections by way of his Madison Avenue gallery Art of the Past, sometimes with the aid of falsified provenance papers. In 2019, after an extensive seven-year investigation dubbed “Operation Hidden Idol,” the Manhattan DA’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) charged Kapoor with trafficking some 2,600 antiquities.

The ex-dealer, who has been imprisoned in India on charges of theft and smuggling since 2011, is expected to be extradited once the criminal case there has concluded. Since filing an extradition request in 2020, the two US agencies have repatriated a number of looted artifacts linked to Kapoor, securing the return of 248 objects to India along with an additional 149 to Pakistan, 33 to Afghanistan, 27 to Cambodia, and 13 to Thailand.

Two of the objects surrendered by Yale were trafficked by Doris and Nancy Wiener, mother-and-daughter dealers of antiquities in New York. Doris, who fanned the flames of the craze for South Asian artifacts in the US in the 1980s and died in 2011, was a regular client of Kapoor’s. Her daughter Nancy, who had an eponymous gallery, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and possessing stolen property in 2021; some of those stolen items were sourced from Kapoor.

Exterior of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven CT, 2020 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Manhattan DA’s Office determined that an additional two artifacts were stolen from temples. In the investigation, the DA worked with partners in India such as the India Pride Project, an online network of vigilante restitution activists dedicated to identifying and securing the return of objects of Indian cultural heritage.

Nine of the 13 looted objects were donated to Yale by the Rubin-Ladd Foundation, a cultural nonprofit — run by a retired Connecticut lawyer — that has loaned, sold, or gifted artifacts to museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, among others. In 2021, the India Pride Project released a report that indicated that the Rubin-Ladd Foundation purchased artifacts from Kapoor that it later gifted to museums. The legitimacy conferred by institutional acquisitions was integral to helping Kapoor maintain his multi-decade trafficking scheme.

Vijay Kumar, founder of the India Pride Project, suggested that Yale failed its duty to thoroughly investigate the provenance of the objects upon receiving them. “This ivy league institution and others hold many such tainted and poorly provenanced antiquities obtained from other dealers and auction houses not only through purchases but as gifts that they receive, and which have been exposed in this case,” he told The Times of India. “It would be prudent for them to realize their faulty due diligence during acquisitions and gift schemes.”

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Cassie Packard

Cassie Packard is a Brooklyn-based art writer. (cassiepackard.com)

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