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Shiva finds new home in Cleveland

A rare sculpture of the Hindu deity Shiva, sold last month from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's collection for more than $4 million, will have a new home in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

"We feel that it is a happy ending to the story, because we are not too far away and we have a spectacular collection of Indian art," said Stanislaw Czuma, a recently retired curator at the Cleveland museum, who was instrumental in acquiring the statue. "It worked very nicely because of the fact that we are practically neighbors."

The Albright-Knox has been attempting to allay fears that much of its list of 207 items to be auctioned off through June would end up in private hands. The "Shiva as Brahma" sculpture joins at least two other major objects sold from the Albright-Knox's collection -- a Chinese wine vessel and a limestone sculpture of a chimera -- to be purchased for public display in museums.

While many objects have so far been purchased by anonymous bidders, some of the more significant pieces were either purchased by museums abroad or by dealers who have expressed their intent that the objects wind up on public view.

"Here at the Albright-Knox, we have been hoping all along that some of the major works would end up in public institutions and in public collections where they can be accessed by the public and not sequestered in some private collection," said Douglas Dreishpoon, the gallery's senior curator. "It was very reassuring and a great relief that the 'Shiva as Brahma' was purchased by the Cleveland Museum of Art."

Frank Kowsky, a member of the group Buffalo Art Keepers, which last month lost a legal fight to stop the sales, said that while he is gratified some of the items are in a public collection, he would rather see the work at home in Buffalo.

"People from Toronto and Cleveland could have traveled here," Kowsky said. "We lost the good fight. I'll be anxious to see if what [the Albright-Knox] buys in the future will match the beauty and significance of what [it] sold."

The sculpture, donated to the Albright-Knox in 1927, comes from the Chola period in India, a time of great artistic flowering that produced many bronze statues of Hindu gods and figures and ended in the 13th century. The Shiva, from the 10th century, was highly sought after because it is one of the few existing granite sculptures from the Chola period.

"There are actually four [in the United States] besides the one [formerly] in Buffalo," said Czuma. "I feel the Buffalo one is superior to all the others . . . It would be virtually impossible to get anything of this type anymore."

The sculpture was purchased on behalf of the Cleveland museum at a March 23 auction by London-based dealer John Eskenazi, brother of the dealer who purchased the Albright-Knox's statues of a leaping deity, a pottery horse and a Maitreya figure three days earlier. At a final price of $4.07 million, the sale earned the highest amount ever paid at auction for a single piece of Indian sculpture.

With the Shiva sculpture, the Cleveland museum will bolster its already significant collection of Indian sculpture and art.

The museum is currently undergoing a $258 million renovation project that will limit much of the museum's space until 2011, but a news release issued by the museum stated that it will make an attempt to exhibit the statue sometime this summer.

In a statement released Wednesday, Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland museum, said, "I hope the acquisition of 'Shiva as Brahma' by another public museum in a city, I should add, that is not far from Buffalo, will be seen as one of the best possible outcomes of the sale."

The Albright-Knox's Dreishpoon noted that a primary motivation for the sale of the artworks was that the gallery's collection of Indian and Southeast Asian art was not large or significant enough to justify a full-time curator to care for the art and plan exhibitions around it. That capacity exists at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Dreishpoon said.

"When it comes right down to it, you've got to have a dedicated staff that's really looking after these things, and there just wasn't and never has been the quantity of objects that would bode for getting someone" at the Albright-Knox, Dreishpoon said.

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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