A 113-kilogram bronze statue of the Buddha was stolen from an art gallery in Los Angeles on 18 September. The statue, which dates to Japan’s Edo Period (1603–1867), had been kept in an outdoor courtyard at the Barakat Gallery in West Hollywood. According to gallery owner Fayez Barakat, the piece, which is 1.25 meters tall, is worth US$1.5 million.
“I prize it so much,” said Barakat. “I had it in the backyard of my home, and when I moved into this gallery I put it in the backyard of the gallery for everybody to admire and enjoy.” (KTLA)
There are few details about the origin of the statue. An inscription on the statue, written partially in Sanskrit, attributes it to Tadazou Iinuma, and notes that it was “prayed for and requested by Ryozen, master of the Shingon religious party, Dainichi-Nyorai, Yudo-no-San Temple, of the highest social class.” (Hyperallergic)
“This monumental bronze sculpture likely once dominated the interior of a temple,” according to gallery director Paul Henderson. “Judging from the inscription, it is likely that this work was once placed in the Yudo-no-San Temple.” (Hyperallergic)
Security camera footage shows what appears to be a male thief using a dolly to move the statue to a van waiting in the driveway of the gallery at around 3:45 a.m. From the time of the thief’s arrival to his departure, only 25 minutes passed. Police officers responded at around 10:30 a.m. after the burglary was reported.
“This gentleman came and, I think, strapped a rope or a chain around that piece and pulled it to his rental van and put it in the back,” observed Barakat, who said he had owned the statue for 55 years. (KTLA)
Henderson said: “We have 200 objects back there, but this is our prize piece. I don’t think there’s another like it on the market anywhere. It’s four feet tall, it’s hollow cast bronze, and it’s a stunning piece. It’s really aesthetically arresting and it’s shocking to see something like this go missing.” (KTLA)
Henderson also said that in his 12 years working at the Barakat Gallery, he had never experienced a burglary and that it would be difficult for the thief to sell the statue without being caught.
“Because it’s an ancient artifact, there’s nowhere where you can sell this piece,” Henderson said. “You can’t go on the market. You can’t take it to a pawn shop and sell it for a few thousand dollars, it’s just not possible. So it’s very interesting. It’s like a museum heist type thing where, what are you going to do with this object right now? We’re all very curious and really puzzled, to be honest.” (KTLA)
Barakat also said that he believed that the thief had deliberately targeted the Buddha statue and had prior knowledge of the gallery’s layout. He noted that the gallery had numerous other valuable items on display, but the thief went directly to the Buddha statue. The thief also came prepared with the items needed to remove an object of that size and weight, leaving behind African wood carvings, Japanese terracotta roof tiles, and other stone sculptures.
Barakat theorized that the item was either stolen for its weight in bronze, to be melted down, or perhaps by someone who hired the thief to steal this specific piece.
“I hope that the person who stole it is not stealing it for the weight of bronze because it’s a historical item,” said Barakat, who also has galleries in Hong Kong, Seoul, and London. “I’m heartbroken. Whoever stole it, maybe that person understood the value. Probably they commissioned somebody, a thief of some kind, to just go ahead and steal it.” (KTLA)
Anyone with information about the stolen sculpture has been urged to contact the Los Angeles Police Department at +1-877-275-5273.
$1.5M Buddha Statue Stolen From LA Gallery (Hyperallergic)
$1.5 million ancient Buddha statue stolen from Los Angeles art gallery (KTLA)
Buddha statue worth $1.5M stolen from art gallery near West Hollywood (NBC Los Angeles)
LAPD investigating midnight heist of $1.5-million Buddha statue (Los Angeles Times)
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