The Metropolitan Museum of Art will repatriate 15 antiquities to India, the institution announced today, March 30. The sculptures, dating from the first century BCE to the 11th century CE, were all at one point sold by disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for the theft and illegal exportation of antique religious idols. The United States Department of Homeland Security named Kapoor “one of the most prolific art smugglers in the world.”
In 2015, The Met began working with the United States Department of Homeland Security and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to investigate objects potentially connected to the infamous dealer. India’s government will receive “Rattle in the Form of a Crouching Grotesque Yaksha (Male Nature Spirit)” (1st century BCE), a terracotta figure gifted by Kapoor; “Celestial dancer (Devata)” (mid-11th century CE); and “Svetambara Enthroned Jina with Attendant Yaksha and Yakshi” (second half of the 11th century CE); among other terracotta, copper, and stone artifacts.
“The Museum is committed to the responsible acquisition of archaeological art, and applies rigorous provenance standards both to new acquisitions and to works long in its collection,” The Met said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “The Museum values highly its long-standing relationships with the government of India, and is pleased to resolve this matter.”
As a part of an international investigation known as “Operation Hidden Idol,” Kapoor was charged with trafficking over $140 million in stolen works from countries including India, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, among others, in July 2019. He had owned the Manhattan gallery Art of the Past, which United States federal authorities raided in 2012. Between 2011 — when the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) detained Kapoor in Cologne and deported him to India — and 2022, authorities found more than 2,600 looted items linked to the dealer.
The Met’s repatriation follows other efforts to return looted objects to their countries of origin. After receiving a warrant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Yale University Art Gallery returned thirteen artifacts tied to Kapoor’s smuggling ring to India and Burma in August 2022. The District Attorney’s Office also returned 235 Indian antiquities seized from Kapoor’s collection in 2021.
Last week, The Met removed from display three objects believed to be illegally looted from the archeological sites Bubon and Perge in Turkey. The museum also shared in its statement today that it is currently reviewing other antiquities in its collection potentially tied to “suspect dealers.”