Thursday, 29 July 2010

Plastic Monsters and Death on a Collector's Unprovenanced Finial (part two)

In the post below I discuss a Canadian collectors fantasies about one of the decontextualised objects he owns published on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts list. Instead of addressing my comments here, John Hooker has replied to his fellow collectors on the same secretive artefact collecting discussion list. His reply is a rambling name-dropping post with the general theme:
I see that [....] Paul Barford [...] has been making some odd claims about an object that he has never seen.
Not only I have not seen this bronze fragment, because Mr Hooker, being a private collector, has kept "his Precious" private, and did not even put a photo on the Ancient Artifacts list, and the piece is not published on the PAS database for us to see and judge the accuracy of his descriptions and believability of his fanciful ("jungian") interpretations. This is of course the whole problem with the digging of ancient artefacts from archaeological contexts and scattering them in a myriad of ephemeral private collections before any record is made. But what do we mere bread eaters know about the art? He reminds his readers that we are not experts like he himself. The "interdisciplinary" Good Collector, using psychology, Dionysiaan imagery, Jungian mandorlas and their interpretation through Hindu mythology and all sorts of other decontexctualised material to create a new imaginitive ("anything goes") New Agey context for his little piece of internet-purchased "ancient art".

In reply to my comments on the importance of context for the fuller understanding of the significance of this piece, Hooker writes accusingly:
Paul Barford also makes a very pertinent mistake when he discusses archaeology [sic]. I don't know if he is misinformed, or is just attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of his readers [....].
This "mistake", is somehow "revealed" by juxtaposing my comments on provenance with something Vincent Megaw had written on a group of red enamelled objects from Manching (Eh?). Hooker is confusing two different things (and one might ask who is trying to pull the wool over whose eyes). This has no relevance whatsoever to the point I was making about the collector's self-justificatory assertion that the provenance of the object he had bought was "probably unimportant". The PAS have been trying to get the opposite view over to finders and collectors for thirteen years without much success it seems. Maybe collectors like Hooker feel they too are "mistaken" and "misinformed"?

Hooker sums up his non-argument by stating blithely:
The facts of the matter are quite different. Looking at the nature of such finds, I would say that the chances of there being any datable context for this find are far less than 01%. I cannot even imagine what such a context could possibly be [...].
Well, even though the collector's imagination falters here, oddly enough "dating" is not the only thing that modern archaeology studies, we've come on quite a bit since the last decades of the nineteenth century (but has antiquity collecting?). I was instead making a totally different point. I really cannot see how even a visionary collector able to "see" all those themes in a scrap of metal can "say" that there would have been next to no chances that this object came from a significant context if in flagrant disregard of best practice he bought it from a silent dealer knowing nothing at all about that context. That is just what we in the trade call "wishful thinking", and such blasé attitudes to context amongst collectors is at the heart of the dilemma in working with antiquity collectors. The PAS have been trying to get this over to finders and collectors for thirteen years without much success it seems.

Still, I see from other posts there that other Yahoo Ancient Artifact collectors over there are jolly impressed by Mr Hooker's decontextualised "precious" (even given, or perhaps because of, the lack of a photo) and home-grown eroodishun. What happened to being a "responsible collectors'" list then? Methinks the PAS ought to be doing some of its "outreach" there.

UPDATE: Canadian collector Hooker is still justifying his purchase of a decontextualised item of metalwork from over the seas:
Data is (sic) often imperfect and we develop methods to overcome these deficiencies and thus the subjects move forward as they are supposed to. Perhaps you feel that I should not have bought it in the first place, but my collection is a research collection and I feel that to ignore the publication of a telling object is totally irresponsible. What would have happened if I had ignored it? There are very few who understand this stuff and it could have been bought by a tyro who would have no idea of its potential importance.
Someone who does not see the images of the passage of time and life after death as they turn it round in their hands as Hooker does? Maybe they would "see" something else. So what? An archaeological assemblage in the UK (we presume) has been trashed without record, Mr Hooker's money went to reward that, and he is bragging about it on a "responsible collectors' forum", and frankly it makes not a bit of difference what he "sees" on it. Now he says it does not matter because data are imperfect so "we develop methods to overcome these deficiencies", this method which Hooker claims he has developed is called "speculation".

This passage illustrates well exactly the self-serving justification which people offer themselves as a reason for ignoring best practice. Hooker models himself as the Good Collector, one of the few enlightened ones that should have immediate access to this privately owned object as "Only-I-Know-what-this-really-is", and "I-spotted-what-the-"experts"-overlooked" (that's what Erich von Daniken says). He intends to analyse it, publish it, donate it to a museum (where, no doubt, he hopes it will not be in the research collection there, but be displayed with a nice label, "Kindly Donated from his Research Collection by John Hooker Esq."). The question is, to what extent are there "good collectors"? As far as I can see only one member of the Yahoo "responsible collectors" list has so far questioned the ethics of buying an object like this which has quite clearly come onto the market as a result of irresponsible artefact hunting. One in two thousand.

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