Sunday, 13 January 2013

"Exceptional Pre-Columbian Art From Hollywood"

LiveAuctioneers are selling "Exceptional Pre-Columbian Art From Hollywood", 115 items, on February 1st. The consigner is named as "Antiquities-Saleroom" but on closer inspection this turns out to be a new incarnation (why?) of "Artemis Gallery". That's Bob and Teresa Dodge ("Artemis Gallery also works closely with The Denver Art Museum, Sotheby's, Christie's, Arte Primitivo and many other market leaders to help with authentication and evaluation of antiquities"). This current auction is billed as follows:
An online-only auction featuring two of the finest Pre-Columbian Collections we have seen in years! Coming straight from award-winning Hollywood insiders, including musuem-quality artifacts from virtually all important ancient Pre-Columbian cultures - Moche, Chavin, Inca, Maya, Colima, Nayarit, Veracruz and many more! Highlights include a Mayan Vase (ex-Andy Warhol), monumental ceramics de-accessioned from The Denver Art Museum and some truly important examples you are unlikely to see again! This is an important sale of well-provenanced and exceptional art from the ancient Americas. All items offered for sale in this auction have been legally acquired, are legal to sell, and guaranteed authentic/as described.
Now, if we look at what Bob and Teresa Dodge reckon is "well-provenanced", it can be seen that their definition of the latter is somewhat loose. Very few items are axscribed to a particular site  (except maybe on stylistic grounds) so what do they understand by "provenance"? A geographical region smaller than Alaska? If we look at collecting histories, that's a bit dodgy-looking too. Let's take the first few numbers:

Provenance: Ex-private Los Angeles, CA collection
Provenance: Ex-prominent Los Angeles, CA collection
Provenance: Ex-prominent Los Angeles, CA collection acquired at Christie's
Provenance: Ex-private Hawaii Collection
Provenance: ex-private Los Angeles, CA Collection 
Provenance: Ex-Private Hawaii collection
Provenance: Ex-private Mratz Collection, Los Angeles, CA.
Provenance: Ex-prominent Hollywood, CA collection
Provenance: Ex-prominent Hollywood, CA collection, ex-private German Collection.
Provenance: Ex-prominent Hollywood, CA collection, ex-L. Kalina Collection.
Provenance: Ex-Sarkisian Collection, Denver, Co
Provenance: Ex-Sarkisian Estate, Denver, CO
Provenance: Ex-prominent Hollywood, CA collection.
Provenance: Ex-prominent Hollywood, CA collection.

So in three of them (less than a quarter) we have a vague reference to the name of a collector, in the rest none whatsoever. No upfront mention of the date of export from the source country, route or what paperwork attended it.  One of the collectors named above figures quite prominently in other Artemis Gallery sales (for example here), apparently he had very eclectic acquisitive patterns, and seems not to have been averse to Ban Chiang bronzework, offered by Artemis without any explanation of how they left Southeast Asia which is all the more suspicious given the circumstances of other cases of Ban Chiang metalwork  reaching the US. In such a case therefore knowing the name of the former owner hardly helps us to assure ourselves that the original purchase was wholly licit without any other information (which is utterly lacking).

So, this assurance "legally acquired, legal to sell"... Is that: "they-can't-touch-you-for-it legally acquired, legal to sell", or "all-the-verified-export-and-collecting-history-paperwork-is-here legally acquired, legal to sell"? In the case of the former, is mere legality (or rather non-illegality) the main issue when buying antiquities? "Prominent dead Californian private collector" tells nobody anything at all about how the item was dug up, entered the market and entered the US.  What if a "prominent/private dead Californian collector" bought an object or two from messers Grebkesh and Runn, the prominent and very private dodgy dealer from Wisconsin who bought them direct from Juan Haquero who shipped them out of the source country hidden in a shipment unexamined by ICE because mislabelled as garden gnomes?

I'd be a bit leery of buying from a dealer who calls Denver Colorado "Hollywood". Suggests that there may not be much meaning behind some other words he uses too.

Vignette: Coin Elf or Artefact Gnome

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