Ongoing case on the 2 artifacts the Asian Civilisations Museum had purchased from New York dealer Subhash Kapoor

Just reposting an old case that I’ve not heard about for over a year. In short the Asian Civilisations Museum had bought things from a New York dealer who is entangled with some poorly-provenanced artifacts that were sold to a reputable museum in Australia. According to this Straits Times article (click here), “Nine years later, the statue [worth $650,000] and an 18th-century gilded Virgin Mary and Christ altar from Goa, India, bought [by ACM] for $348,000 in 2009, have been named in lawsuits brought against associates of the gallery in the US”.

I wonder what would happen if the US court can prove that the two artifacts bought by ACM are indeed problematic, esp since ACM director Alan Chong said confidently “I want to dispel the notion that we lack procedures and that we are cowboys out there just doing things. We are not. Our procedures are actually very robust. We could not find a flaw or error in our procedures in 2006 and 2009.” Australia had already agreed to return to India some of the artifacts it had bought from Kapoor (click here).

On another case, Australia had gotten a refund for a questionable sculpture that it had bought from another prominent dealer Nancy Weiner (whom according to her website counts ACM as a client). Read more about this case here where the writer mentions ACM and the stuff it had bought from Nancy. The same writer had reported (click here) that ACM had spent more than $1,000,000 on 30 artifacts from Kapoor (listing exact prices for exact items in its collection), urging the museum to “…immediately release the provenance documents for all the antiquities it acquired from the dealer and proactively reach out to Indian and American investigators”.

Anyone knows the outcome on the Singapore-side? I am a Singapore tax-payer and the Singapore National Heritage Board has a duty as a tax-funded institution to come clean on all the facts, no matter how embarrassing. And if the inconvenient facts implicate some of its existing staff, it would be good to know how they would be treated. I know that the Singapore Attorney General’s Chambers is strict on the government-procurement process to ensure best-usage of public funds; but what about government agencies using public funds to buy ‘subjectively-priced’ things like antiques where there are no competitive transparent bids? The ex-ACM director Kenson Kwok, the ex-Indian curator of ACM Gauri Krishnan (current head of Indian Heritage Centre), then Board of non-executive directors of ACM (who had to approve purchases), ex-NHB CEO Michael Koh and current NHB CEO Rosa Daniel should all come clean on what had happened, and what can be done to right the wrongs if any are found. Singapore is well-known for its financial transparency and the integrity of its public servants, right?

On a side-note, not only is the business of antique-buying is messy; so is modern art. It was recently reported that the soon-to-open National Gallery of Singapore has in its possession a Chen Wen His painting (probably purchased by the Singapore Art Museum in 1994, and then passed on to the new Gallery) that it cannot prove is authentic or not (click here). And since public-funds are likely to be involved, who are responsible if the monies are not well-spent?

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