Will Internal Audits be the New Norm for Museums?

This Kushan Buddha statue, bought by the National Gallery in Australia is one of the "questionable" objects flagged in the museum's internal review
This Kushan Buddha statue, bought by the National Gallery in Australia is one of the “questionable” objects flagged in the museum’s internal review

Good news for those who want to encourage museums to thoroughly examine their collections. The National Gallery of Australia has determined that 22 antiquities from Asia have “insufficient or questionable provenance documentation.”

Chasing Aphrodite has a comprehensive roundup, including the dealers and collectors who had possession of these objects:

Among the problematic objects are 14 that came from Manhattan dealer Subhash Kapoor’s Art of the Past, including the $5 million Dancing Shiva returned to India by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year and several others we’ve highlighted in previous reports. Also highlighted in the report is the museum’s Kushan Buddha, which our report last year revealed had been sold the museum with a false ownership history by Manhattan dealerNancy Wiener. Wiener agreed to refund the $1.08 million purchase price, and the NGA will return the sculpture to India this year.

Eight other questionable objects came through Wiener and another Manhattan Asian art dealerCarlton Rochell; the Swiss dealer/collector George Ortiz;and auction houses Spink and Son and Christie’s, among other familiar names. We’ll detail those objects in a subsequent report.

This internal review has begun with the Asian collection, but aims to examine all 5,000 objects in the museum’s collection. Investigations by individuals, journalists, and law enforcement has dramatically the approach of this museum to its permanent collection. The open question is whether this kind of review, what Chasing Aprodite calls “ex post facto due diligence” will become a new norm among museums. On the one hand this might be viewed as a punitive measure, forcing museums to look back and ratify the actions of earlier curators. But from the museum perspective, this may be examined as a useful step which reveals that rather than the entire collection of a museum being tainted by questionable objects, perhaps it is only limited and isolated pockets of potentially illicit material.

  1. The Crennan Report: The NGA’s Ex Post Facto Due Diligence Finds 22 “Questionable” Asian Antiquities, CHASING APHRODITE (2016), http://chasingaphrodite.com/2016/02/17/the-crennan-report-the-ngas-ex-post-facto-due-diligence-finds-22-questionable-asian-antiquities/ .
  2. Oliver Milman, Buddha statue found to have been stolen will be returned to India, The Guardian, January 4, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jan/05/buddha-statue-found-to-have-been-stolen-will-be-returned-to-india .
  3. Sally Pryor, Report finds 22 artworks from NGA have dodgy provenance Canberra Times (2016), http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/national-gallery-of-australia-releases-independent-report-into-asian-art-20160217-gmwgv0.html .
  4. Shalailah Medhora, Provenance of 22 Asian artworks at National Gallery of Australia in doubt, The Guardian, February 17, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/17/provenance-of-22-asian-artworks-at-national-gallery-of-australia-in-doubt .
  5. Up to 22 items at National Gallery could be stolen: audit, ABC News (2016), http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-17/national-gallery-of-australia-asian-art-review-subhash-kapoor/7177772 .

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