The Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Culture and Tourism, Mahesh Sharma inaugurated an exhibition titled ‘Return of the Three Stone Sculptures from Australia to India’ in the National Museum at Janpath, New Delhi on 23 May 2017.
The exhibit marks the safe return of three Indian stone sculptures including the ‘Seated Buddha’, ‘Worshippers of Buddha’ and ‘Goddess Pratyangira’ from Australia to India.
• The sculptures were purchased by the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) from the Nancy Wiener Gallery in New York in 2007 and the Art of the Past antique store in New York in 2005.
• The artefacts were stolen from temples or archaeological sites and smuggled out of India and sold with false ownership histories by the dealers.
• The NGA had acquired them unintentionally and was the first to report discrepancy in the artefacts’ ownership history.
• They were formally handed over to Mahesh Sharma while he was attending a special event at the NGA in Canberra by Australian Senator Mitch Fifield.
• The owners of both the New York antique stores are currently facing trial for running an international smuggling racket.
• In an unprecedented review of its Asian art collection, the National Gallery of Australia found out that 22 of the 36 objects examined to date had insufficient or questionable provenance documentation.
• Among the controversial objects were 14 that were acquired from New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor’s Art of the Past store.
• The artefacts with questionable ownership included $5 million worth Dancing Shiva and the Kushan Buddha. The Dancing Shiva sculpture was returned to India by Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2016.
• One of the controversial artefact galleries, Wiener has agreed to refund the money the Australian gallery paid for the purchase of the stolen pieces.
The unveiling of the smuggling racket brings to surface the growing risks faced by museums and collectors who purchased Asian antiquities in recent decades from what they believed to be respectable dealers and auction houses.
Besides this, the Minister released a book entitled ‘War Paintings of The Irresistible Jat King Surajmal’ by Satya Vrata Tripathi on the occasion and also launched an application on Swachchta Abhiyan.