Thursday, 21 August 2014

SLAM's Ka Nefer Nefer and Questions About the Communist Regime of Yugoslavia

Communist leader Josip Broz Tito examines a vase with wife Jovanka...

The interest in the official collecting history of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask now in the museum of a US city currently in the news for brutal police repression, is shifting to the period when it is claimed the antiquity was in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The early 1960s when the mask changed hands were a turbulent time for the Communist republic, rent as it was by ethnic tensions as well as subject to external pressures. Government control was exercised through the State Security Administration (Управа државне безбедности - UDBA) and one of the mechanisms by which this power was exercised was the assassination of suspected "enemies of the state" and numerous arrests and prison sentences handed down over the years for separatist activities.

It is against such a background that concerns may be raised that despite a number of years' research, both before and after its purchase by SLAM, not a single trace has been found of any documentation of even the former existence of the first known owner of the mask in the SFRY, a person (of indeterminate sex) whose surname is given as Kaloterna (The Art Museum Subdistrict of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District of the City of Saint Louis and the County of St Louis, v. The United States of America).* The only mention of the former existence of this person has been a chance remark made by its second known owner, a person apparently closely related to the ruling elite of the Communist state after 1964, Zuzi Jelinek, who by her own account acquired this valuable antiquity precisely in this period.

Under what circumstances did the Kaloterna family relinquish ownership of this mask and under what circumstances did a Tito family confidant come into its possession? What happened to Kaloterna, and why is there today apparently zero documentation of this person's existence? One might quite legitimately ask, whether there is a possibility that Kaloterna was 'disappeared' by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's State Security Apparatus for political reasons. Does Mrs Jelinek have any further information on the identity and fate of this individual? When asked by a US journalist, she was very vague about the whole affair: "I bought the mask many many years ago, and I sold it many many years ago".

SLAM and the Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia
Perhaps those who forked out money so SLAM could buy this object deserve to know a little more about the nature and circumstances of this transaction deep in the heart of Communism. That's:
Friends Fund and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Christian B. Peper, Mrs. Drew Philpott, the Longmire Fund of the Saint Louis Community Foundation, The Arthur and Helen Baer Charitable Foundation, an anonymous donor, Gary Wolff, Mrs. Marjorie M. Getty, by exchange, Florence Heiman in memory of her husband, Theodore Heiman, Ellen D. Thompson, by exchange, Dr. and Mrs. G. R. Hansen, Sid Goldstein in memory of Donna and Earl Jacobs, Friends Fund, by exchange, and Museum Purchase
These people placed their trust in the trustees and staff of the Museum to sort out questions like this before approving the purchase, is there any evidence that this trust was justified? What has SLAM determined about the fate of Kaloterna and the Kaloterna collection in Communist Yugoslavia?

* In any case, the surname Kaloterna is quite uncommon (an internet search reveals it is almost exclusively related to this case) and Kaliterna is a common Croatian surname (and the surname of a famous footballer), is it possible that though from Zagreb herself, Jelinek has mis-rendered the actual name of the person concerned (and why would she do that)? It goes without saying that no trace of a Kaliterna who had an early 1960s antiquity collection is known either.

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