Yale Museum surrenders 13 stolen South Asian artifacts worth over $1 million

Yale University Art Gallery
Yale University Art Gallery. Image: Google Maps
  • Yale University Art Gallery, the oldest art gallery in America, relinquished 13 South Asian artifacts worth over $1 million to Homeland Security and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as part of an investigation into infamous antiquities thief Subhash Kapoor.
  • Twelve of the artifacts are from India, with two reportedly having been stolen from a temple, and one is from Burma.
  • Nine were donated by the Rubin-Ladd Foundation, which may have donated to other museums linked to Kapoor in Ohio, Massachusetts and Honolulu.
  • Some of the items purportedly stolen include a statue of Kubera, a god of wealth, valued at $550,000, and a marble arch valued at $85,000.
  • Kapoor was a world-renowned art dealer but is now in prison in India for art theft crimes spanning 30 years and $145 million in stolen works from around the world. Some items in the investigation are reportedly still missing, while some are being returned to their respective provenances.

Yale University Art Gallery surrendered 13 South Asian artifacts thought to be worth more than $1 million to Homeland Security and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, as the pieces may be tied to an accused antiquities smuggler, Subhash Kapoor

While Homeland Security could not disclose the full parameters of their investigation, a statement released by them indicated that the pieces are “connected to either Subhash Kapoor or his overseas suppliers.” 

The university has cooperated with the investigation, releasing a statement on its website last Thursday that reads: “Yale University, having been presented with information indicating that works of art in its collections were stolen from their countries of origin, delivered the works on March 30, 2022, to the New York District Attorney’s Office, which will coordinate the objects’ repatriation later this year. Yale was glad to work cooperatively with the DA’s Office in this important matter.”

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Of the 13 artifacts seized by law enforcement, 12 are reportedly from India, of which two were stolen from a temple, and another is from Burma. Nine of the artifacts were donated by the Rubin-Ladd Foundation, which may have also donated to other museums in the U.S. Other museums thought to be entangled in Kapoor’s looting ring include Ohio’s Toledo Museum of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Yale’s handling of the situation is not without critics. Vijay Kumar, the founder of the Indian Pride Project, an organization that assists investigations with tracking stolen art, blames Yale for not researching their pieces more thoroughly. 

“How can you buy or keep Indian art this long without full provenance and when you know about Kapoor and the history of theft from India?” he told the New York Times.

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Some of the disputed items in Yale’s possession included a 10th-century sandstone statue of Kubera, a god of wealth, valued at $550,000, and a 12th or 13th-century marble arch, a Parikara valued at $85,000. 

Yale’s museum was founded in 1832 and is considered the oldest art museum in America, boasting around 30,000 items in its collection. 

Prior to his downfall in 2011, Subhash Kapoor was a prominent and well-regarded art dealer. Over 26,000 seized antiquities valued at over $107 million have been linked to Kapoor. Pieces were smuggled from countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Thailand. Investigators are still searching for more stolen objects, while others are being returned to their respective countries. 

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Kapoor, 70, is currently imprisoned in India, awaiting trial for numerous art theft charges. He was charged Monday for trafficking stolen artifacts worth an estimated $145 million over a span of 30 years.

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