How An American Foundation Distributes Stolen Indian Art To The Likes Of Yale University

S Vijay Kumar

Aug 08, 2021, 11:42 AM | Updated 01:25 PM IST

Lakshmi Narayana murty returned by NGA recently.
Lakshmi Narayana murty returned by NGA recently.
  • Research by the India Pride Project, an online volunteer group, has revealed how a US-based foundation distributes stolen Indian art.
  • More such exposés are in the pipeline in the coming weeks.
  • The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) on Thursday announced that it would be returning to India 14 works of art from its Asian art collection. Out of these,13 artefacts are linked to the now-jailed art trafficker Subhash Kapoor of the ‘Art of the Past’ gallery in Manhattan.

    Research by the India Pride Project, an online volunteer group determined to bring back priceless artefacts smuggled out of India on the provenance papers released by the NGA, revealed close connections between 'Art of the Past' and The Rubin-Ladd foundation in the United States.

    The foundation’s name first cropped up when the group examined the papers associated with the Lakshmi Narayan sculpture being returned. The fake 2006 letter of provenance for the sculpture was, as expected, from Salina Mohamed of New York, a close associate of Shubash Kapoor and the woman who, in 2013, had pleaded guilty in a US court for “laundering pieces by creating provenance, origin history and letters of authenticity”.

    However, what caught the group's eye was the line that came after. The chain of ownership states that after Salina Mohamed, the sculpture was- “with the Rubin-Ladd foundation and on loan to San Antonio Museum of Art, 2003 or before”.

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    This observation prompted the conduct of simple internet searches regarding the foundation. The results were surprising. They revealed a long list of artefacts linked to the foundation in many American museums.

    Thereafter, the group sought and examined annual return filings of the Rubin-Ladd foundation from 2004 to 2013. Two rather startling discoveries were made:

    One, that the following museums were beneficiaries of this foundation —Norton Simon Museum, Carlos–Emory Museum, Yale University, San Antonia Museum of Art, Los Angeles County, Ackland Museum, Harvard University, Lowe Art Museum, Leigh University, Worcester Art Museum.

    Two, that over the last decade, the foundation has made several purchases from ‘Art of the Past’ and has gifted many such acquisitions to its beneficiary museums.

    Take for instance the tax filing of 2013, the year in which the foundation gifted art works valued at US $428,500 to three US museums/universities. The returns, which provide information regarding the source of these objects, the inventory stock of the foundation and the dealer they acquired the same from, show that the items listed below have been sourced from ‘Art of the Past’.

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    Though the returns provide only the closing stock statements for a few years between 2004-2013, the India Pride Project could still count more than 25 objects valued over a million dollars linked to Art of the Past.

    Thus, we have a curious case of museums displaying Kapoor’s tainted loot, but as 'gifts' from the Rubin-Ladd foundation.

    The group can now prove that the route involving 'Art of the Past to Rubin- Ladd Foundation to reputed US museums" has been used to launder stolen art from centrally protected archaeological sites in India.

    They illustrate this with the example of the Kubera Idol placed in Yale University courtesy this route.

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    As can be seen, this idol, which was sourced from Shubash Kapoor and gifted by the Rubin-Ladd foundation to Yale University, bears a striking resemblance to the stolen Kubera Idol from Uttar Pradesh, whose photographs were published in Pragdhara, the Uttar Pradesh Archaeological Departmental Journal.

    The Kubera Idol is only one among the many illicit antiquities with the Rubin-Ladd Foundation.

    The India Pride Project assures the exposé of these in the coming weeks.

    Thanks to Jason Felch of Chasing Aphrodite for his valuable inputs.

    Vijay is a shipping professional working in Singapore. He is an avid heritage enthusiast and runs poetryinstone, a blog aimed at promoting awareness of Indian art.

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