‘Operation Hidden Idol’ Seizes Yet Another Suspect Sculpture From NYC Gallery

The feds say the the 8th Century C. E. statue is valued at $450,000.

Eighth-century Afghan marble sculpture was seized in New York as part of Operation Hidden Idol

New York’s annual Asia Week is meant to drum up interest in the city’s booming market for Asian art. This year, however, it has been the occasion to showcase the unseemly side of the trade.

In what is only the latest of a series of embarrassing scuffles with the law, authorities have taken possession of an Afghan statue on display at a New York City gallery as part of “Operation Hidden Idol,” the name for federal law enforcement’s attempt to crack down on the smuggled antiquities trade.

The statue is described as “a marble sculpture, known as Shiva and Parvati, from the Hund Region of Afghanistan, dated from the 8th Century C. E. and valued at approximately $450,000,” according to a search warrant obtained by artnet News, filed in New York State Supreme Court. The DA also provided artnet News with an image of the seized sculpture (above).

The object was seized from a gallery on East 67th street—Galerie Vallois America—where it was being shown by Leonardo Vigorelli, who owns the Dalton Somaré art gallery in Milan, Italy. Asia Week’s official website says that Dalton Somaré specializes in “Ancient Art of Asia” and is “exhibiting at Gallery Vallois,” a common arrangement for foreign galleries looking to take advantage of the event.

In a report on the incident, the New York Times says federal authorities were working in conjunction with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and that they wrapped the relic in protective materials and loaded it on to a moving truck.

artnet News reached out to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as well as the Department of Homeland Security. The DA’s office reiterated a statement given to the Times, in which spokeswoman Joan Vollero said the statue is “part of a serious, long-term, international criminal investigation,” adding that the seizure was “appropriate, and conducted pursuant to a search warrant approved by a neutral, third-party judge.”

Asian art specialist and chairman of Asia Week New York, Lark Mason, is also quoted in the Times, saying that Vigorelli had obtained the required paperwork into order to import the statue. He questioned why authorities had not contacted the gallerist previously to ask about the provenance of the piece. Vigorelli reportedly placed the value of the object at $50,000, a fraction of the estimate stated in the search warrant.

This is only the latest incident related to “Operation Hidden Idol” to hit Asia Week. Just this past Friday, investigators seized two sculptures from Christie’s using a search warrant obtained by Manhattan prosecutors. On Tuesday, they seized another sculpture as it was en route to New York for sale at an unnamed “New York auction house.”


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