Saturday, 2 May 2015

Sabaean Ooops

Sabaea in Yemen
The American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) administered through the Council of American Overseas Research Centers is organizing a cosy academic meeting (the 19th annual meeting Rencontres Sabéennes) at the University of Pisa in June 2015. As an illustration to the call for papers they used one of those chunky sculptures from the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. It takes a special kind of carelessness not to check where the image of an Inscribed Sabaean Limestone Plank Stele, 2nd/1st Century BC comes from (Ostracon Ancient Art - Zurich "Intact and a good example. Some roughness and chipping on the edges [...] English private collection, acquired 40 years ago. 4200 USD"). I expect we'll see a lot more of this sort of thing (both real and fake) coming onto the market very soon. As for something which (allegedly) has been in some foreign collection since 1975, there is the slight matter of the Yemeni  Antiquities and museums law N.13 of 1970 and the 1972 Decree-law N.7 on Antiquities. How did this piece reach an English collector in 1975? 

Take a look at this rather unlovely thing. What is the point of collecting something like this?  It is a hunk of carved stone with a face on it (we all know how collectors like things with faces on them). It is an artefact, but is it art? Rather than being 'stylized' as the dealer has it, it's downright crude, flat face with monobrow, triangular nose, slit mouth and schematic rhomboid eyes. This is not, surely, a portrait of the ŠYB | ẒHRN from whose grave this was removed. The collector who buys this cannot be imagining he's buying ancient art, or even 'primitive art'. I imagine the person who buys this for 4200 bucks sees it as a trophy, marking him out as some kind of connoisseur with 'refined' (read oddball) tastes. 

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