Honolulu Museum Sues Art Collector for Nearly $1 Million Over Donation of Allegedly Smuggled Artwork

The museum is demanding the collector prove the works have a provenance.

Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art and the Honolulu Academy of Arts (HAA) are suing art collector Joel Alexander Greene for $880,000 for previous donations.

The museum fears that Greene’s works may have come from a smuggling ring—an entanglement which the institution especially wants to avoid after seven of its artifacts were seized by Homeland Security Investigations in connection to the ongoing case against disgraced Indian art dealer Subhash Kapoor.

In 2004, Greene offered to donate five pieces of Southeast Asian art. The arrangement also included an additional 37 works of art that would be donated when Greene died. For the museum’s part, it agreed to pay Greene an annuity of $80,000.

The museum had successfully completed a transaction with Greene before, acquiring an 11th-century Cambodian statue.

The complaint, as quoted by Courthouse News, was filed July 31 and contends that Greene has failed to furnish documentation for the five Southeast Asian works from his collection, which are allegedly worth $1.3 million. The institution suspects that “the objects were not lawfully obtained, exported, or imported.”

After Kapoor’s arrest in 2011, the complaint explains, the Honolulu Museum began taking a closer look at its holdings “to verify that it had documentation of clear title and provenance of select pieces in its collection.” It was then that the institution realized Greene had never provided titles, proof of authenticity, or valid export and import documentation for the works.

Buddhist Trinity from Cambodia (circa 13th century), donated to the Honolulu Museum of Art by Joel Alexander Greene in 2004. Photo: Haa900, via Wikimedia Commons.

Buddhist Trinity from Cambodia (circa 13th century), donated to the Honolulu Museum of Art by Joel Alexander Greene in 2004.
Photo: Haa900, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Based on Greene’s failure to provide the documentation, which he represented he had and his failure to provide the written warranty as he previously agreed, HAA believes that the promise documentation does not exist,” the complaint contends.

The museum says that the entire arrangement was based on the understanding that the works each had an established provenance, but that Greene now claims that “the annuity agreement did not require him to provide documentation.”

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