Showing posts with label Sotheby's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sotheby's. Show all posts

December 1, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016 - ,,, No comments

Just another day, living in gangsta...I mean art market...paradise...

“History is subjective. History is alterable. History is, finally, little more than modeling clay in a very warm room.” ― Bradford Morrow, The Forgers

Papyrologist and ancient historian Dr. Roberta Mazza once coined a phrase to describe the world in general, but which also aptly applies to how the art market sometimes moves and acts....“absurdistan”

Chiming in with her very own “prestigious auction alert” on her spot-on blog Faces & Voices earlier this week, Mazza then drew our attention to an upcoming New York auction we may not want to miss.  In addition to auctioning six, six-figure bibles from the Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie collection, auction powerhouse Sotheby's is also offering a “Souvenir Facsimile” of the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St John's fragment. 

But who recreates a Canonical gospel as a souvenir? And more importantly, who buys one?  Does its ownership by a famous theologian make the counterfeit knock-off the Bible-nerds equivalent to a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card?

If reading about a certified fake on auction wasn't enough to make me think people will buy just about anything, the auction house news reminded me of this list-serv posting from 2014.  It is from an antiquities collector forum and was posted by a well known dealer.  Its title...

A journey in the life of a looted antiquity...

I'm sure this lovely step-by-step guide was merely an illustration, mind you. Surely the um.... the respectable dealer himself wasn't speaking from any first-hand experience?

“Hello to you all.

I would like to share with you my thoughts regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction at Bonhams or Christies is actually looted.

- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while ploughing [sic] his land.

- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land, ending up in jail, family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village.

- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo.

- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.

- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain.

- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country, e.g. Portugal.  sorry, stupid meaning = level of  customs awareness.

- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course no body [sic] checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax, no customs.

- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export licence [sic] to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.

- Item received in the U.S , no trouble, legal,

- Item sold in auction + old European collection, legally entered to U.S, customs paid.” 

Dealer name withheld  
Location: somewhere in “absurdistan”

NB:  ARCA has screenshots of the conversation with said dealer in question, but based on the above, we are super happy that US Secretary of State John Kerry has signed off this week on the U.S.-Egypt cultural property Memorandum of Understanding with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

by: Lynda Albertson

November 18, 2015

Price and Provenance

Record prices were achieved at auctions last week with Chinese billionaires leading the way.

On the 11th of November, a Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau bought an exceptional 12 carat blue diamond, known as the Blue Moon for CHF 48.634 /US$ 48.5 million at Sotheby’s in Geneva, the highest price ever paid for a gemstone at auction, adding to his already large collection of art, jewellery and fine wines. 

On the 9th of November, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché was sold in New York for US$ 170.4 million, achieving a record for the hapless artist ranking in the top ten list of the most expensive paintings ever sold.  The name of the bidder from China was revealed to be Liu Yiqian, a Shanghai billionaire collector, who is already famous for his Ming Dynasty “Chicken Cup” bought for HK$ 281.24 million / US$36.05 million  in April 2014, the highest price ever paid for Chinese porcelain at an auction. 

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), ‘Nu couché, painted in 1917-18

Modigliani was the artist of the week. Only a few days earlier on 4th November, another painting by Modigliani Paulette Jourdain was sold for US$ 42.8 million, well above its estimate, at Sotheby’s otherwise lacklustre sale of the collection of its former owner A. Alfred Taubman. Sotheby´s identified the buyer as a private Asian collector. 

Before these trophy items go behind the thick security doors, residents and visitors in Hong Kong had a chance to inspect them in person a month earlier together with other luxury collectables, exhibited as part of the auction houses’ highlight tours to stimulate the region’s increasingly eclectic taste in art. The costly campaign of the rivalling auction houses probably paid off. 

Anyone who fancies a Modigliani nude, yet are without the wherewithal needed, can still decorate their walls with a lookalike copy, skilfully handmade in Southern China. The chance that your friends may spot it as a reproduction is probably about 10%, as with the case of the fresh copy of the 18th century portrait Young Woman by Jean-Honoré Fragonard of bought online for GBP£ 70 for the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s project ‘Made in China’ project earlier this year. Even the Gallery’s curators were marvelled at the skill of the Chinese copyist although they insist that we should be able to easily spot the difference with closer scrutiny. 

But can we really?

It is a bitter fact that many large-scale conspiracies such as Beltracchi and Knoedler/Pei-Shen Quian were not uncovered for more than a decade. In China, it took nearly 10 years until someone eventually spotted at a Hong Kong auction house that a former librarian, Xiao Yuan, stole 143 Chinese master paintings from the library of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and replaced them with his copies. His copies were again substituted for further fakes. 

Living artists’ works can also be copied. Recently a Chinese auction house withdrew a living artist’s painting from its sale in Hong Kong after the artist himself challenged the authenticity of the work, which was presumed to be destroyed in 1989 and allegedly repainted in 1992, according to the very artist’s letter provided by the seller. As demonstrated in this case, it can be difficult to prove authenticity even for contemporary art in the Chinese art system, where credible documentation is often not in place. The distinction between a copy and a forgery is not fully recognised in the local culture, nor is the importance of a work's collection history, often referred to as an artwork's provenance. As demonstrated in the recently concluded exhibition “Copyleft Appropriation Art in China” at Power Station of Art in Shanghai, the concept of appropriation may be very different between China and the West. 

The free port that is Hong Kong has become one of the world’s largest art marketplaces and is consolidating its status as the region’s main art hub with the expected opening in 2019 of an iconic new public museum M+. Overshadowing the luminosity, Hong Kong also has a reputation as a playground for the illicit trading of counterfeits and smuggled artworks, many of which are transported in bulk from Mainland China. 

Recognising this growing issue, one which has been undermining the credibility and further development of the region’s art market, a group of experts with respective backgrounds in art, insurance, forensics, crime prevention, security and commercial risk management founded a local art risk consultancy TrackArt in 2011. Based in Hong Kong, it is the first and, currently, only provider of forensic DNA coding services for artworks in Asia. 

Together with cataloguing and recovery assistance services, TrackArt’s DNA coding secures the artwork’s onwards chain of provenance and validates future identification, which works most effectively in the primary market if applied in the artist’s studio. Using licenced technology from a UK technology partner, TrackArt offers more than one format of DNA suitable for various types of materials and surfaces of paintings, works on paper, antiquities, ceramics, etc. 

It’s high time the art market learnt the importance of securing the provenance of artworks, both now and in the future.

Here is a link to TrackArt’s website

(Selected information sources)

Dulwich Picture Gallery ‘Made in China’ Project

Chinese curator’s forgery

Geng Jianyi’s claim

Shanghai’s Power Station of Art’s current exhibition, Copyleft

Is it plagiarism or is it ‘shanzhai

February 5, 2015

Pieter Paul Rubens, “The daughters of Cetrops find the serpent-shaped baby”

Posted originally in its entirety with permission from the author and Plundered Art. 

The daughters of Cetrops find the serpent-shaped baby, Rubens
by Marc Masurovsky

What’s in a provenance? According to one saying, it is all in the eye of the beholder. Should it be? After all, there are those who believe, truly believe, that a provenance is optional and is a mere adornment for the art object being offered for sale, traded, loaned or otherwise donated. The art market has learned that an “interesting” provenance can enhance the value of the art object being offered up, especially if it has survived the vagaries of war and genocide.

Still, others think that a provenance is the closest thing to a legal document. Now, why would these “others” say such a thing? Well, for one thing, a provenance should give those who come to museums to view, who go to auction houses and galleries to acquire, some basic information about where the object came from, who the current owner is, who the previous owners were. Shouldn’t the provenance meet some or all of those requirements? And if so, how complete should it be? After all, we don’t want to give the wrong impression about an object, we surely don’t want to rewrite its history, we don’t want to lie about the true history of an object. Do we?

For the sake of the exercise, let’s use a painting by Pieter Paul Rubens, “The daughters of Cetrops find the serpent-shaped baby Erichthonius, 1615, an oil on panel, painted by the 17th master in 1615 or so we think.

The online art historical database of the world-renown “Rijksbureau V. Kunsthistorische Documentatie” (RKD), a fascinating softly interactive collection of information about Dutch paintings and their collectors, proves to be most useful and the departure point for our exercise.

According to the RKD, the provenance reads as follows:

Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Luzern, 1934-11-30, lot nr. 40 
niet verkocht (volgens veiling cat. 7-8 december 2011)
Hans W. Lange, Berlijn, Collection B., Vienna, 1938-11-18 - 1938-11-19, lot nr. 180
Lange, Hans W. (Berlijn) 1938-11-18, lot nr. 180 
, het betreft hier de gedwongen verkoop van de collectie van Victor Bloch
Lempertz (Keulen) 2006-11-18, afb. colour reproduction, lotnr. 1133 
, met opgave van herkomst en literatuur
Sotheby's (Londen (Engeland)) 2011-12-07 - 2011-12-08, afb. colour reproduction, lot nr. 198 
, met opgave van herkomst en literatuur;
Dorotheum (Wenen) 2012-04-18, afb. colour reproduction, lot nr. 606 .

private collection Colas de Marolles, Frankrijk
private collection Viktor Bloch, Wenen 1938 waarschijnlijk in 1934 niet verkocht. In 1938 in Berlijn verkocht als ' collectie B., niet-arische collectie', d.w.z. joods (zie Held 1980)
Particuliere collectie / Private collection 1938 - sinds de late jaren 1930 (volgens veilingcat. 7-8- december 2011)
Hans W. Lange, Berlin
Galerie Jean-François Heim, Parijs/Bazel 2014 - Shown at the European Fine Arts Fair, Maastricht, March 2014

The Lempertz auction house in Köln, Germany, which is a habitual reseller of Holocaust-era plundered art objects, provided the following information for the Rubens painting in its sales information on November 18, 2006:

Slg. Victor Bloch, Wien;
Auktion XVIII, Gilhofer u. Ranschburg, Luzern, 30.11.1934, Lot 40;
Auktion H. W. Lange, Berlin, 18./19.11.1938, Lot 180;
seit dem Ende der Dreißigerjahre in einer westdeutschen Privatsammlung.

The Sotheby’s auction house sold the painting on December 7, 2011. Its sales catalogue included the following information about the Rubens painting:

Dr. Victor Bloch, Vienna;
His sale, Lucerne, Gilhofer and Ranschburg, 30 November 1934, lot 40, where unsold;
His forced sale ("Collection B. Vienna"), Berlin, H.W. Lange, 18-19 November 1938, lot 180;
In the possession of the family of the present owner since the end of the 1930s.

It added: “This work is sold pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner and the heirs of Victor Bloch...At the time of the sale in 1938, this work was accompanied by the expertise of Max J. Friedländer and Gustav Glück.”

The Dorotheum auction house in Vienna, Austria, sold the Rubens painting on April 18, 2012 and disclosed no provenance information.

We know from the RKD provenance that the Rubens painting ended up with the gallery of Jean-François Heim in Basel, Switzerland. Mr. Heim’s gallery provided the following information online:
Colas de Marolles heraldic symbol
Colas de Marolles family Collection
Probably Van Schorrel Sale, Antwerp, 1774
Dr. Victor Bloch Collection, Vienna (as Peter Paul Rubens) Sale XVIII, Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Lucerne, 30/11/1934, lot 40
Sale H. W. Lange, Berlin, 18-19/11/1938, lot 180
From the end of the 1930s in a private collection in West Germany
Sale Lempertz, Cologne, 18/11/2006, lot 1133 (as Peter Paul Rubens)

To sum things up, as far as the extant literature allows us to conclude, the oldest owner to be identified for the 1615 painting by Rubens was a French collector by the name of Colas de Marolles who presumably acquired the painting in 1774 at the van Schorrel sale in Antwerp. Jean-François Heim is the only one who mentioned this XVIIIth century historical tidbit. The painting ended up in the collection of Dr. Victor Bloch, of Vienna, at an unknown date. Dr. Bloch tried to sell the painting on November 30, 1934 at Gilhofer and Ranschburg, in Lucerne, Switzerland, as lot No. 40. But the painting failed to find a buyer, a fact noted by Lempertz, Sotheby’s and Heim.

The Nazis annexed Austria in an Anchluss on March 10, 1938. Dr. Bloch, being of Jewish descent, was subject to anti-Jewish racial laws. The Hans W. Lange auction house in Berlin, Germany, a veteran of “Jew auctions”, the swift liquidation or “forced sale” of movable property belonging to persons of Jewish descent. The property of Dr. Bloch was listed in the Lange catalogue as non-aryan, a tip-off to the potential buyer that this sale was a fire sale. Lange sold the Rubens without the consent of Dr. Bloch, to an unknown buyer on November 18-19, 1938 as Lot No. 180, a fact noted by the RKD and Sotheby’s. The Lempertz auction house and Heim failed to indicate in their provenances for the Rubens painting the fact that the Bloch sale, a non-Aryan sale, a forced sale, occurred within the context of Nazi anti-Jewish policies of economic and racial persecution aimed at dispossessing all persons of Jewish descent of their property, movable and immovable. Anyone reading their provenances would have to assume that the sale at Lange was licit and the buyer who acquired the Rubens painting had obtained it in good faith despite the fact that the Lange sale was well-advertised as involving non-Aryan property, code for Jewish, code for persecuted, code for forced sale.

The Lempertz auction house sold the Rubens painting on November 18, 2006, misleading the acquiring public into believing that the painting had been sold licitly in good faith by Lange in November 1938. For 68 years, the Rubens painting was owned illegally. In other words, Lempertz passed bad title to the next possessor who thought that he/she was acquiring the painting in good faith. On December 7, 2011, Sotheby’s in London, UK, accepted the Rubens painting on consignment from the possessor who had acquired it at Lempertz. Since December 1998, the art world has had to take heed of the so-called Washington Principles, drafted and adopted at the Washington Conference on Holocaust-era Assets. These non-binding principles serve as an ethical and moral checkpoint for the art market and cultural institutions in their treatment of art objects that have been misappropriated between 1933 and 1945. These said institutions and players are advised to do their utmost to resolve ownership disputes pertaining to these plundered objects and to reach “fair and just solutions” with the victims of the thefts and the current possessors.

Sotheby’s indicated in its sales catalogue that a settlement agreement had been reached with the heirs of Victor Bloch, meaning that the sale was going to proceed and the family of Dr. Bloch was strongly advised to accept a certain sum of money to preserve title in the hands of the seller and to close their claim for the painting. The sale proceeded. The buyer at Sotheby’s sold the Rubens a year later at the Dorotheum in Vienna on April 8, 2012. Jean-François Heim’s gallery displayed the painting at the Maastricht Art fair in 2014.

This “provenance exercise” is meant to serve as a cautionary tale regarding how art market players interpret the history of ownership of an object being displayed or offered for sale. It also shows how gallery owners and auctioneers are apt to select facts about the history of an art object. In other words, the history of objects is (re)constructed to serve, no doubt, the interests of the house. The provenance ends up being an exercise much like docudramas and historical reenactments on television, where fact and fiction coexist and interlace to produce a new narrative that masks the harsh realities of history.

December 5, 2014

Opinion: More Questions Than Solutions from the Auction Houses

By Lynda Albertson

Following the successful identification and the subsequent withdrawal of the Sardinian idol, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist and Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project has forwarded ARCA four additional images of antiquities that match photos from the Symes-Michaelides archive.  

Tsirogiannis and Italian heritage professionals have been working diligently for years to make sense of a lengthy catalog photo and forensic documentation, that paint a vivid picture of the complexity of the network of dealers, middlemen, and tombaroli involved in the looting and smuggling of antiquities.

These four identified objects match auction items that are to be included in two December sales events; one held by Christie's New York scheduled for December 11, 2014 and another with Sotheby's New York to be held the following day.

Christies LOT 51: AN EGYPTIAN ALABASTER FIGURAL JUG, estimated at $150,000 -$250,000


The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.

Christies LOT 95: AN ATTIC RED-FIGURED COLUMN KRATER, estimated at $60,000 -$90,000

The object is depicted in the same condition in the images that have been confiscated by the American authorities from the antiquities dealer David Swingler, among hundreds of antiquities which were repatriated to Italy after it was found that they were smuggled. Swingler's name is not included in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.

The object appears in the auction catalog with its surface cleaned, unlike its appearance in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by auction house.

Sotheby's: LOT 6: An Egyptian Diorite Figure of a Priest of the Temple of Mut, late 25th/early 26th Dynasty, circa 670-610 B.C., estimated at $400,000 - 600,000

The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.

Note: These suspect objects have been brought to the attention of authorities in the United States, Italy and Egypt.

More than  four decades have passed since the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Despite greater public awareness of the problems posed by looting, suspect antiquities are still finding their way into auction houses through methods embedded within the licit antiquities trade.  By whitening a tainted object's illicit background through legitimate or contrived collection histories, laundered objects, be they from Italy, Egypt, Iraq or Syria, will continue to find their way into the glassy catalogs of licit objects being sold on the art market.

Unless tighter sanctions are imposed by governments or unless the art market itself voluntarily polices itself better, at the behest of culturally aware collectors or the general public, the problem will continue.  Predatory and subsistence looters will continue to supply the demand for materials needed and by proxy encourage the parasitical relationship between them, the middlemen suppliers and the auction houses.