“Do US Museums have looted Asian Artifacts?”

29 07 2012

Via ArtsJournal:  “Do US Museums have looted Asian Artifacts? Feds Want To Know

“Federal authorities are asking American museums to scrutinize their collections for items that they have obtained from a veteran Manhattan art dealer now accused of possessing antiquities stolen from India and other countries.”

The New York Times 07/28/12

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco may not be named in the above-linked NY Times article as a recipient of objects from accused art dealer Subhash Kapoor, but has indeed been named as such in his bio (pdf) and on the Art of the World website (now shut down).

Federal agents in Manhattan seizing statues linked to Subhash Kapoor.

Federal agents in Manhattan seizing statues linked to Subhash Kapoor. (US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, via NY Times)

It’s worth recalling that while the lack of provenance of many of the objects in Asian antiquity collections of individuals such as Norton Simon in Pasadena, Avery Brundage at “The Asian”, and John D. Rockefeller III at Asia Society in New York is well noted, the question of illicit excavation does not apply to objects in collections formed before 1970.

This is thanks to UNESCO’s “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illlicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,” which is more concerned with “antiquities that have no provenance and first came to light since 1970, the date of the UNESCO convention.

In other words, there’s a statute of limitations on stolen or looted Asian art that only goes back to 1970.  Colonialism, even from the mid-20th century, gets a pass.  How does that work?

Even at that, UK did not sign on to the 1970 convention until 2003, Switzerland 2004, and as of 2006, Germany, Denmark, and Holland had yet to ratify.




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