National Gallery of Australia Burdened with Provenance Worries

Gerard Vaughan

The new director of the National Gallery of Australia has ordered an independent review of the gallery’s Asian art collection in response to provenance worries and the recent scandal over a shiva statue that had to be returned to India.

The Asian art collection holds around 5000 works. A preliminary internal investigation, which only looked at works from South Asia, has already turned up 54 objects that need further research.

“The NGA acknowledges that there are works in the collection whose provenance and legal status needs a renewed level of scrutiny,” says director Gerard Vaughan, who has been in the role just over a month. “The situation is regrettable; however, we are now addressing these issues in a proactive and open manner.”

Currently there are no claims for any of the works on this early list. They are now on the NGA website with an open call for further information and documentation.

Twenty-one of the 54 works in question were bought from Subhash Kapoor, the antiques dealer who sold the gallery the looted shiva.

In total, 33 were acquired during the tenure of previous director Ron Radford, who was in charge when the scandal took place.

The independent reviewer will be appointed in the new year to advise on Australian and international cultural property laws as well as “chain of ownership and provenance,” according to a statement from the gallery. The review is expected to take years, involving consultation with experts as well as donors and government authorities.

The gallery is now enlarging its team of Asian art provenance researchers and also reviewing due diligence procedures, which were last updated in 2008.

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