Monday 5 April 2021

Steinhardt Stargazer Case in Court Today

         Stone figure of unclear origins        

The legal battle between the Republic of Turkey and Christie’s about the so-called “Guennol Stargazer”, postponed from last year, is scheduled to go to trial today. This concerns one of the finest and largest preserved Chalcolithic Anatolian marble female idols of Kiliya type (dated to between 3000 and 2200 BC). Apart from the examples recently sold by Timelines Auctions in Harwich, UK, and ones that from time to time appear on eBay, there are around 15 nearly complete ones known. Few of them have any provenance to speak of. The origins of the 'Guenol' one are equally obscure. It seems to have been illegally excavated and then smuggled out of Turkey in the early 1960s. According to Antiquities Coalition (Latest AC Story Map Chronicles History of the Guennol Stargazer as its Case, Republic of Turkey v. Christie’s Inc. et al, Goes to Trial April 5, 2021 - see also the text by Sam Hardy 'The antiquity of the Guennol Stargazer – legal, looted, fake?' Conflict Antiquities 9th March 2018):

In 1961, Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife Edith purchased the antiquity from the John J. Klejman Gallery and added it to their Guennol Collection, a group of masterpieces widely renowned in the art community, having been loaned to a number of esteemed institutions and featuring works that have gone on to sell for millions. In 1993, the figure, referred to today as the Guennol Stargazer, was purchased by Michael Steinhardt [search] [...] Steinhardt later consigned the Guennol Stargazer to Christie’s, which scheduled its “Exceptional Sale” for April 28, 2017. Shortly before the auction, the Consul General of Turkey submitted a letter to Christie’s, claiming the figure as state property. The two parties could not reach an agreement, so Christie’s refused to halt the sale, and an anonymous bidder announced their intent to pay $14.5 million at the auction. One day before the sale was scheduled to take place, the government of Turkey filed a formal complaint in the Southern District of New York to halt the sale, reveal the identity of the anonymous bidder, and return the figure to Turkey, asserting that the figure’s removal from the country had been in violation of Turkey’s 1909 patrimony law. The original bidder pulled out of the sale in an attempt to maintain anonymity, but the Stargazer was nonetheless purchased for $12.7 million. 
I have earlier mused whether this object is actually an authenic antiquity at all ('Don't eat the Road-kill: Star-Gazer Kosher?' PACHI Saturday, 10 March 2018)

Christie’s claimed that the Turkish government acted unreasonably because they "should have" known of the figure’s location long before the auction advertisement because it had been exhibited a number of times prior to that. In a landmark judgement earlier a legal precedent was established in this case to the effect that prominently and publicly displaying a work of art for great lengths of time does not bar claims for recovery (David Jenkins, 'Case Review: Republic of Turkey v. Christie’s' ItsArtLaw April 30th 2020).  

What is in dispute is whether the sellers have in their possession any documentation of legal excavation and export that would give them title to sell. AC quote the collector who has in the past been involved in handling objects with a deficit of legitimating paperwork and is now trying to shift this piece of patinated stone as having once described his hobby collecting antiquities to Forbes by stating, “It’s a little bit dangerous, but that’s what makes it exciting… But life is filled with risks, isn’t it?”. Whether or not his lawyers will triumphantly produce and wave the right papers in court today cannot hide the fact that what the production of this collectable for US lawyers to quibble over is the destruction of an important archaeological context at the findspot in a foreign land.  

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