Thursday 26 April 2012

Preserving Ancient Artefacts at Home: the Sad Fate of a Nok Terracotta in a Manhattan Collection

One of the justifications offered for no-questions-asked collecting is that collectors "preserve cultural heritage" by "cherishing them" in their homes rather than a museum showcase or storeroom. In the latter however they are looked after by people who are trained in their care. In people's homes, artefacts are exposed to all sorts of hazards. Take a Nok sculpture in a Manhattan woman's home. Corice Arman, the widow of deconstructionist artist Arman says she has had it "25 years", meaning it was bought c. 1986/7. Leaving for the moment aside the question of how it left the ground and then left the source country to arrive in the TriBeCa district of Lower Manhattan, photos show the Arman personal collection of artefacts with this statue displayed out in the open, standing on the floor next to shelves with other  displayed artefacts. 

On May 12th a photographer  Eric Guillemain left unattended taking photos of this collection for a monthly art magazine Art+Auction, allegedly destroyed the statue when it fell on the floor as he was moving it to a location with better lighting.  The owner said this 2,630-year-old sculpture ("estimated to date back to the year 618 B.C.") was worth at least $300,000 and this “unique and irreplaceable artwork” was destined "to go on display at the Museum for African Art on Fifth Ave., set to open this year". 

“I was totally devastated,” she said Wednesday, explaining that the nearly 48-inch-tall bejeweled female figurine was shattered beyond repair. [...] “I heard this enormous crash and saw it was broken into smithereens,” Arman said. “It was all over the carpet.” [...] “It meant a lot to me because it was something I collected with my late husband and it can never be replaced.”
She is now seeking compensation from the magazine's publisher. Iin a suit filed on Monday at the Manhattan Supreme Court, she is asking a judge to order Louis Blouin Media Inc., parent company of the magazine to pay for the damage caused by its photographer.

Arman’s lawyer, Charles Rosenzweig, called the accident “a loss of world heritage. It’s a terrible, terrible thing.” Arman, whose husband was a legendary sculptor who routinely used smashed and broken items in his works, had planned on eventually donating the piece to a museum. “It was a wonderful, extraordinary specimen — very large and complete,” Arman said. [...] Ben Hartley, the president of Louise Blouin, said he had not seen the suit, but that “we have the position that we have no liability in this incident.”
Well, obviously somebody's living room is not a suitable place for the curation of "a piece of [dugup] world heritage".


Barbara Ross and Bill Hutchinson, 'Widow of artist Arman is suing after her Nigerian Nok statue was destroyed', NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, April 25, 2012.

Dareh Gregorian, 'Art-breaking! Fotog shatters ancient statue', New Yoprk Post, April 26, 2012 Read more: Read more:

Photos: New York Daily News


Contemporary Nigeria said...

Nok terracotta sculptures are not supposed to be in private collections in the first place.

Paul Barford said...

Well, I am not sure about "totally" should not be, surely some of the first discoveries left Nigeria legally in colonial times, though of course it would be nice if they were in public collections where they could be seen by many more folk.

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