Art crime: discussion on the Dancing Shiva acquisition

Oliveri, Vicki, Porter, Glenn, James, Pamela, Wise, Jenny, and Davies, Chris (2020) Art crime: discussion on the Dancing Shiva acquisition. Journal Of Criminological Research Policy And Practice, 6 (4). pp. 307-319.

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This paper aims to explore how stolen Indian antiquities were purchased by a major Australian collecting institution, despite cultural protection policies designed to prevent such inappropriate acquisitions. Using the acquisition of the Dancing Shiva as a case study, the purpose of this paper is to examine how collecting institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia experience difficulty when determining legal title through provenance research. The impact of incautious provenance research produces significant risk to the institution including damaging its social responsibility credentials and reputation when the acquisition is discovered to be stolen.


This research applies a qualitative case study method and analysis of sourced official policy documents, personal communication with actors involved with the case, media reports and published institutional statements.


This work identifies four contributing factors that resulted in the National Gallery of Australia's acquisition of stolen Indian artefacts: a misguided level of trust of the art dealer based on his professional reputation; a problematic motivation to expand the gallery's Asian art collection; a less transparent and judicious acquisition process; and a collaboration deficiency with cultural institutions in India. Crime preventative methods would appear to be a strategic priority to counter art crime of this nature.

Research limitations/implications

Additional research into how collecting institutions can be effectively supported to develop and implement crime preventative methods, especially less-resourced institutions, can potentially further enhance cultural heritage protection.

Practical implications

Fostering a higher degree of transparency and institutional collaboration can enhance cultural heritage protection, develop a greater level of institutional ethics and social responsibility and identify any potential criminal activity. Changing the culture of "owning" to "loaning" may provide a long-term solution for cultural heritage protection, rather than incentivising a black market with lucrative sums of money paid for artefacts.

Social implications

Art crime involving the illegal trade of antiquities is often misinterpreted as a victimless crime with no real harm to individuals. The loss of a temple deity statue produces significant spiritual anguish for the Indian community, as the statue is representative not only of their God but also of place. Collecting institutions have a social responsibility to prioritise robust provenance policy and acquisition practices above collection priorities.


Art crime is a relatively new area within criminology. This work examines issues involving major collecting institutions acquiring stolen cultural heritage artefacts and the impact art crime has on institutions and communities. This paper unpacks how motivations for growing more prestigious collections can override cultural sensibilities and ethical frameworks established to protect cultural heritage. It highlights the liabilities associated with purchasing antiquities without significant due diligence regarding provenance research and safeguarding cultural heritage. It also emphasises the importance for collecting institutions to establish robust acquisition policies to protect the reputation of the institutions and the communities they represent.

Item ID: 63678
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2056-385X
Keywords: Cultural heritage, Art, Criminology, Crime prevention and reduction, Provenance, Acquisition policies, Art crime, Stolen antiquities, Indian antiquities
Copyright Information: © Emerald Publishing Limited
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2020 07:30
FoR Codes: 48 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 4899 Other law and legal studies > 489999 Other law and legal studies not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 23 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 2399 Other law, politics and community services > 239999 Other law, politics and community services not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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