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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ex-Gallery Owner Wants Buddha Statue Back

MANHATTAN (CN) - A former art gallery owner stopped the sale of a Buddha statue he says was stolen from him but an auction company has not given it back, he claims in court.

Gary Crawford, who owned the now-defunct Kundus Gallery in San Francisco, says he purchased a 15th or 16th century Tibetan Medicine Buddha statue in 1975 for $10,000 from a dealer in London. The statue stayed at the gallery until it was stolen in 1983, Crawford claims.

The former gallery owner says that, despite providing police with pictures of the stolen art during their investigation, the Buddha statue has never turned up. He claims that he has reached out to international Himalayan art dealers and auctioneers to try to locate the statue.

A breakthrough came in August, when the head of the Indian and Southeast Asian Art department at Sotheby's New York emailed Crawford images of highlights from Sotheby's upcoming September sale, including an image of the stolen Buddha, according to Crawford.

After seeing the picture, Crawford says he notified Sotheby's that the statue was stolen from him, and asked that Sotheby's withdraw the piece from its auction and return it to him. Sotheby's pulled the Buddha from the auction "but to this date has not agreed to return the statue," according to Crawford.

It was around this time that Crawford claims he discovered that a California company called Weider Health and Fitness consigned the Buddha to Sotheby's. He says he demanded its return from Weider but "Weider claims to be the owner of the statue" and has refused to return it.

Crawford sued Sotheby's and Weider in New York Supreme Court on Thursday. He says "he has been and remains the lawful owner of the statue" since be bought it in 1975, and "has superior and exclusive right to immediate possession of the statue."

Calls to Weider Health and Fitness were not answered. A post on the company's Facebook page indicates the gym may have closed. The company's founder, Joe Weider, passed away in 2013, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Courthouse News is awaiting a statement from Sotheby's regarding the lawsuit.

Crawford seeks damages for conversion and a judgment declaring him the rightful owner of the Buddha statue. He is represented by Joseph Patella of Andrews Kurth LLP in New York City.

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