Monday, 25 February 2013

Nord on Art - Iffy Provenances for Knocked Off Sculptures

The Nord on Art blog takes a look at the upcoming Indian and Southeast Asian art auctions in New York ("An Ongoing Problem – Indian and Southeast Asian Antiquities with Iffy Provenance", February 25, 2013). There are on offer "numerous beautiful works and numerous works without a pre-1970 provenance". Nord Wennstrom lists a selection from the many works in the Christie’s sale on March 19, 2013 that lack a pre-1970 provenance. He notes that:
the catalogue does not state if the works were legally exported from the country of origin after the implementation of that UNESCO accord. This is a recurring problem – as noted in a previous blog, 70% of the top ten stone sculptures in Christie’s September 2012 sale also lacked a pre-1970 provenance. Will this affect the sale of these works? We’ll see.
I think the fact that this is an "ongoing/ recurring problem" gives us the answer.

It strikes me looking at the photographs that if I were a (caring, questioning) buyer, I'd like a lot more information about the edges of those broken pieces. what toolmarks are visible? Is there any sign that the object has lain in the soil for centuries after those breaks? Is there any evidence of artificial patination of those breaks? Or is there clear evidence from the state of the piece that the broken fragments lay loose on the forest floor for many years before somebody gathered them up, carted them off and put them on sale? After all, if there is no evidence of that, then how can the present sellers convince (caring, questioning) buyers that they were not broken when levered off the wall by looters last year? I would say any description which does not adequately address that issue when referring to the state of preservation of the object is an incomplete description.

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