Friday 15 August 2014

Key to Antiquities Success, "Reunite them with their Provenance"

Scott Reyburn, 'The Lure of Antiquities', New York Times, Aug 15, 2014.

This is a bit of a space-filling bla-bla article with the undertext "buy more antiquities" and plugging (again) Lorne Thyssen, who opened Kallos Gallery on Davies Street, Mayfair, in May. Also plugged are Gregory Demirjian (Ariadne Galleries), which opened a London branch in Mayfair in June, Charles Ede and Rupert Wace (both moving to the region next month):
the British capital is reinforcing its reputation as the world’s leading art souk, where the international rich can buy masterpieces from just about any culture and era, with the opening of four galleries specializing in museum-quality objects from the ancient world. [...] “London has become a hub,” Mr. Demirjian said. “We’re seeing collectors from the Middle East, the Far East and America. We’re now doing about 60 percent of our business in London.”
Fortunately, despite this, collectors seem to be becoming a dying breed. The middle market is somewhat flat, and:
Christie’s said its auction sales of antiquities dropped from £34.5 million in 2010 to just £17.5 million — the price of one Gerhard Richter — in 2013. Concerns about provenance remain an issue in this market, but so does the decline of the “connoisseur” middle-range buyer. “Specialist antiquities collectors have diminished,” said the London-based dealer Rupert Wace. “There aren’t so many of them around any more.” [...] , but an increasing number of wealthy collectors are noticing that the best-quality ancient art is still a lot cheaper than contemporary art, and that they look good together.
The article quotes Neil Brodie and Sam Hardy ("Dr. Brodie’s paper [...] concluded that the majority of antiquities handled by dealers and auction houses since 1970 lacked detailed provenances. In many cases, this was the result of the objects having been illegally excavated or looted").
In the light of current events, and of a number of high-profile criminal investigations that destroyed the careers of several dealers, salesroom specialists and museum curators in the 1990s and 2000s, Christie’s antiquities department will no longer accept entries that lack convincing documentary evidence of ownership stretching back to at least 2000. As a rule, museums in the United States — one of 161 countries that have ratified the Unesco convention — won’t buy ancient objects that left their country of origin after 1970, unless they have proof they were legally exported.
There is however optimism in the air:
Ede’s managing director, Martin Clist, is confident that there will be enough Unesco-approved antiquities to sustain a market whose ethics are subject to ever-increasing scrutiny. “There have been thousands of objects legally traded over hundreds of years,” Mr. Clist said. “A lot of these items don’t come with bits of paper or photos. It’s up to us to reunite them with their provenances. If we can do that, buyers will have more security than they’ve ever had before.”
I guess that the dealers incapable of doing that will be seen as cowboys and offer their buyers insufficient security.

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