Australian gallery refuses to return $5-mn Shiva idol

Sydney, March 25: The National Gallery of Australia is refusing to return the dancing Shiva statue it purchased for $5 million from an Indian-origin antiquities dealer despite evidence that it was stolen from an Indian temple.

Allan Myers,chairman of the Canberra-based National Gallery of Australia (NGA) Council, said the gallery would wait for the processes of the law to take place before deciding whether to send the statue back to India, The Melbourne Age reported Tuesday.

The Indian high commission in Australia requested the gallery to return the ancient idol.

The gallery’s failure to adequately check the ownership history of the statue and other items purchased from the New York-based arts dealer Subhash Kapoor was sharply criticised by Australia’s Arts Minister George Brandis.

Brandis said that the decision to buy the statue for $5 million in February 2008 was “incautious”.

“The due diligence standards of the NGA which are very high, in fact are world’s best practice, were not in my view sufficiently complied with on this particular occasion,” he was quoted as saying.

Allan defended the gallery’s procedures, including its failure to contact the previous owners of objects it purchased from Kapoor.

Kapoor is being tried in India on charges of smuggling ancient art works.

The gallery also purchased a number of other Indian artefacts from Kapoor, including a stone sculpture of the God Ardhanarishvara for $300,000 in 2004 and which was also allegedly stolen from a temple.

However, the gallery’s director Michael Brand indirectly criticised the lax procedures of the gallery under his predecessor Edmund Capon, who presided over the purchase of several items from Kapoor between 1994 and 2004.

“I think the best answer there is that they would not have passed our current acquisition policy but again I’m not going to comment on decisions made by my predecessors,” Brand said.

IANS