Saturday, 4 August 2012

Dealer Owen and the Temple Sculptures

Dealer Edgar Owen - a vehement critic of certain positions about antiquity collecting - has been mentioned here a couple of times before (Cultural Heritage and Gubn'mint Repression of Collecters' "Rights", More Freshly-Surfaced V-Coin Cunies for Sale, Spanish Antiquities Bust and the CoinForgery Discussion List, Antiquities Dealer Edgar Owen: South American Antiquities for Sale). His website has a bit on "collecting ancient art: an enjoyable and profitable investment" setting out his rather specific philosophy. I was quite taken with his approach to collecting histories:
PROVENANCE: Collectors of ancient art are [in the case of objects that are not fresh dugups PMB] only the most current stewards of objects with long long histories. The provenance, or ownership history of a piece of art, can be a fascinating topic in itself, but unfortunately the provenance of most objects is not known. Provenance has some importance in buying, and a good provenance certainly adds some value. We have been fortunate enough to offer pieces from a number of notable collections. Nevertheless provenances can be easily overstated or even faked. Thus our recommendation is that the piece itself is the most important consideration when making a purchase. If one purchases a good piece, one can't go wrong.
Really? That would be why then the five ancient Indian sculptures he currently has on eBay are offered without any collecting histories mentioned at all:
 9900. A LARGE INDIAN STONE FRIEZE, ca. 10th century AD. The frieze depicting a voluptuous celestial dancer or goddess. Wear to face, but a large and impressive figure. 12 x 29 x 5 inches. An excellent display or decorator piece! $3500 estimate.

 9822. A LARGE INDIAN EROTIC STONE STELE, ca. 10th century AD. A nearly complete stele carved in dark gray stone with Shiva seated with erect lingam next to his semi-nude consort, Shiva's foot resting on Nandi bull below. 4 x 14 x 25 inches. Couple of lines on old expert repairs. Excellent carving and a nearly complete piece with rare erotic subject matter. Considerably better than image. On custom stand. $4500 estimate,

 9821. A LARGE KUBARA STONE PLAQUE, ca. 1st millennium AD. With a corpulent seated god or king being served by a semi-nude maiden who pours him drink, remains of pigment (white color is cleanable deposit). 8 x 22 x 23 inches. On custom stand (which should be sanded and refinished to remove rust deposits). $3500 estimate.

 6985. A LARGE INDIAN STONE FRIEZE. Central India, 10th-11th century. Most probably the goddess Ganga with attendants in 2 of her manifestations. 16" x 25.5", 115 lbs. $4000 estimate.

 6986. A LARGE INDIAN LIMESTONE FIGURE OF VISHNU. Kashmir, ca. 10th century. The god Vishnu standing with female attendants. 15" x 25.5", 85 lbs. Some cleanable soot deposits from years of votive offerings in temple use. $5000 estimate.
 [Wouldn't the soot tend to come off an object that had been lying in the ground for aeons before being carted off by some nineteenth century traveller? Why does not the soot suggest this has come straight from a temple wall?]
More interesting this antiquities dealer has today on eBay a rather repetitive series of sculpted curvy torsos of near-naked buxom young ladies gyrating celestially... all of them clearly stated to be twentieth century copies (9903 [patinated and distressed], 9904, 9905, 9906, 9907, and here) "Great buy for an upscale decorator" at 4500 dollars estimate. Now where could be one place where a New Jersey dealer could have been getting supplies of copies of ancient sculptures? Many sources are of course possible but it probably really is just a a coincidence that a fellow dealer 60km down the road had an import company with lots of precisely such statues that he needed to offload on somebody. One might ask where precisely Mr Owen obtained these provenance-less (freshly surfaced) antiquities? Since they are from an impeccable source, I am sure he will be amending the descriptions to convince prospective wary buyers that it was not from Nimbus Imports or Art of the Past Gallery of Mr Kapoor who are in the news at the moment. 

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