Showing posts with label art auctions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art auctions. Show all posts

October 26, 2016

To keep or not to keep, that is the question

Despite the formal objections of two governments, Cyprus and Egypt, and an open letter of complaint from classical archaeologist and MacArthur Foundation Genius scholar and Toledo native, Joan Breton Connelly, Christie’s in New York and the Toledo Museum of Art have gone forward with their auction of 68 deaccessioned artworks from the museum's antiquities collection.  


Shaaban Abdel Gawad Supervisor-General of Egypt's Antiquities Repatriation Department at the antiquities ministry had earlier contacted the directors of UNESCO and the International Council of Museums, as well as Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who tried to work through the Egyptian embassy in the United States to persuade the museum to withdraw the Egyptian artefacts and return them to their country of origin.  The National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation led by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany also met to discuss the proposed sale and to consider possible methods of postponing the sale or requesting that the objects be relinquished to Egypt.

Leonidas Pantelides, ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, voiced his own, somewhat softer objection on Monday, October 24, asking that the sale be postponed or that the museum reconsider keeping the items. 

In a letter of rebuttal to the public outcry, and in the most part to Dr. Connelly's rebuke of the sale, the Toledo Museum of Art issued a formal reply which is posted in its entirety on the museum's website. In explaining its rationale for going forward with the antiquities auction the museum stated:


The rebuttal quotes from the AAMD - The Association of Art Museum Directors wherein the North American-based association states: 

“Deaccessioning is a legitimate part of the formation and care of collections and, if practiced, should be done in order to refine and improve the quality and appropriateness of the collection, the better to serve the museum’s mission.” 

The Toledo Museum of Art's statement further justified their decision to sell antiquities from their collection drawing from the collections ethics guidelines of the AAM - the American Alliance of Museums

In simple terms, the museum's letter spelled out that their decision to sell artifacts was not taken willy-nilly and in their eyes falls safely inside the AAMD code of ethics which provides that sales proceeds may not be used “for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.” 

But the museum's decision, and the consequences of their decision, underscore the slippery slope museums can legally walk on, staying inside the perceived ethical boundaries of specific association guidelines in order to raise funds for new acquisitions, while still being allowed to divest themselves of no longer wanted art.

In total, 23 items from the museum's collection have been sold during Tuesday's New York auction including Lot 16 a Cypriot limestone head of a male votary, formally part of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities which sold for USD$ 68,750.

And Lot 6 an An Egyptian limestone fragment from the Early 26th Dynasty which sold for USD$162,500

The auction netted the Ohio art museum $640,000 on Tuesday.

The sale of the remaining 45 deaccessioned artworks continued via Christie’s web-based online auction site through Wednesday, October 26, 2016. The Online and live auctions at Christie’s generated almost USD $970,000 for the Toledo Museum of Art's new acquisitions fund.









February 20, 2015

Where Did Kitty and Mummy Go? - British Collecting Past and Present

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
Everyone likes a one man's trash is another man's treasure story.  But what can these stories tell us about collectors, collecting habits and the art market in antiquities in the 20th century in  the UK?

In November 2014, the family of a deceased elderly woman, Doreen Liddell, hired the services of an estate sale company, Penzance Auction House to go through the painful disposal of unwanted things us humans tend to accumulate over our lifetimes and that relatives frequently don't have the place for, or the emotional strength to actively sift through.  

Companies like these sort through a deceased person's household belongings, usually after the surviving family members have made a first-pass, marking or removing what they want to keep. The auctioneer's team, familiar with the mechanization of dealing with the property of the deceased,  pack up the momentos the family wants to keep preparing them for delivery to various destinations.  They then set to work valuating the remaining items the heirs aren't interested in retaining, preparing them for auction.  The last two steps usually involve donating the low value items to charities and chucking out the bitts and bobbs that remain.  In quick work company's like this one in Cornwall can clear the house of all evidence that was once a person's life. 

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
One item in this clean-out, a 7-inch tall bronze statuette of a cat, seemed destined for the trash dumpster parked on the driveway of Mrs. Liddell's cottage in Penzance, until auctioneer David Lay intervened.  Lay had a hunch that the regal looking cat with golden earrings set up near the fireplace was not a simple tourist trinket, but might be something special.  Following his instincts, he took the statue to specialists in Egyptian art at the British Museum. They identified the feline as a 26th Dynasty (672-525 BCE) Egyptian bronze.  

Statuettes symbolizing cats often served as votive offerings in Egyptian temples, and were frequently placed in tombs.  Almost all Egyptian gods were associated with some animal and assumed the form of a particular beast in Egyptian sculpture.  In this case the goddess, Bast, written as 'Bastet' by scribes to emphasis that the 't' was to be pronounced, is symbolized in the form of a feline.  In writing, her name has the hieroglyph of a 'bas'-jar with the feminine ending of 't' and during the Old Kingdom she was considered to be the daughter of Atum in Heliopolis.  She first appeared in animal form bearing the head of a lion.  Later,  in the New Kingdom, she took on the form of a domestic house cat like the animal bust found in the cottage.

Up for auction yesterday, the Bast statuette expected to sell for a conservative £5,000 to £10,000 GBP but instead sold for £52,000.  

But how did this ancient object find its way from an Egyptian tomb to a house in Western Cornwall?

It seems Doreen Liddell was the widow of Douglas Liddell, who, before his death was one of the biggest influences in British Numismatics. Liddell worked for Spink and Son Ltd, the prestigious auction house founded in London in 1666.   Starting out in their coin department just after the Second World War he would remain with the collecting firm through his retirement in December 1987.  He worked first in Spink's coin department, moving on to director of the company on the 1st June 1965, followed by a promotion to Managing Director in 1977, a post he retained until he retirement to Cornwall. 
 
Spink's has long been famous not only for its for its sales of Ancient Egyptian artefacts and in 1939 was tasked with selling the estate of archaeologist Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, three months after Carter's death. 

Photo Credit: Harry Burton/Rue des Archives/ Getty
It is likely that Douglas Liddell purchased the 2,500-year-old Egyptian bronze at one of Spink's many antiquities sales, but unfortunately like is true in many, many cases during the 1900s, collection histories weren't prized, even as is the case with this collector, by those in the biz.  The family has no recollection of, or record for the purchase of the Bast statue so the context of this piece; where it came from and who it belongs to before it was purchased by Liddell has sadly been lost.

In fairness to Mr. Liddell and collectors in general, even Howard Carter, methodical man though he was, kept no systematic record of the antiquities in his personal collection.   The closest thing researchers have to a record of his significant collection is the valuation of Carter's property for probate prepared by Spink and Son on 1 June 1939.

It is not publicly known yet, if this feline statue has a similar record of valuation by Spink, but it is possible that it has.

Can we estimate the purchase price?

Not exactly, but an early Spink and Son catalog from 1924 has been digitized so we have an idea of how antiquities increase their value over time. 

This catalog features objects from the MacGregor, Hilton Price, Amherst, Meux & Carnarvon collections and on page twelve pictures a larger Egyptian bronze cat, almost twice as tall as the one in Mrs. Liddell's cottage.  This one was estimated at auction at £400, a healthy sum relative the other items in the catalog and one that included delivery anywhere in the world.
Photo Credit: Spink and Son Auction Catalog, 1924

Reproduced using an online inflation calculator that compares collector's prices in 1924 with the value of the British Pound in 2011, the scanned catalog illustrates the comparative values that continue to drive individuals to collect antiquities as financial investments.   Not only do these figures show that antiquities were worthwhile investments but their pricing gives ARCA's blog readers insight into how relatively easy it was for collectors to assemble large and diverse collections in the early years of the 20th Century with cheaply priced antiquities.

Back then you could even bring your mummy home for a simple £16  (See page 8).

While collectors are finding bargains today, which will appreciate in value just like this cat and this mummy did, we hope that today's contemporary collectors will begin to place greater importance on where an object comes from as well as better care of maintaining a collection history outlining their purchases.  That way the next generation of heirs don't toss grandpa's beloved kitty in the trash heap.

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/bast.html
http://www.antiquitiesonline.co.uk/A-catalogue-from-the-golden-age-of-collecting_A10JF1.aspx
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-31524625
http://www.davidlay.co.uk/?_ga=1.59733733.991253984.1423311544
http://www.nicholasreeves.com/item.aspx?category=Writing&id=69
https://penzanceauctionhouse.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/something-quite-spectacular/
http://www.spink.com/news/newsletters/2003/200305coin_news.asp

November 23, 2014

Essay: Do you think art collectors might be tempted to buy Syrian antiquities (looted or otherwise?). We say resoundingly, yes.

By Lynda Albertson

On November 22, 2014 the Syrian Arabic Republic - Ministry of Culture's Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) published two striking photos of three confiscated artifacts removed from the Taibul Tomb in the Southeast Necropolis at Palmrya.  Taibul (TYBL in his native Palmyrene) was a rich Palmyran merchant who commissioned a tomb for himself and his family in 113 CE in a necropolis five kilometres southeast of Palmyra.

The tombs in this ancient graveyard are subterranean.  To the untrained eye, the zone where Taibul's tomb and others are located originally looked like just another tract of stony Syrian desert. But with the combined work of Syrian and Japanese archaeologists who documented the site between 2001 and 2005 we have learned much about Palmyrene funerary practices, couches, sepulchres and loculi.   

Unfortunately, the finely-sculpted figures of
men and women where of interest not only to archaeologists and historians documenting the site but more recently also to tomb raiders. But were these thieves savvy enough to understand what will sell on the antiquities art market or were they simply opportunists, taking advantage of what they could easily access?  

Are funerary busts of interest to collectors?

And are they willing to pay large sums for them?

A quick search on the internet would lead one to believe so.  In a few clicks I found one relief listed on eBay through Aphrodite Ancient Art LLC with little identifying where the object originated from.  The auction page states only that it was part of an “Early American private collection, 1960’s”.  eBay lists this one for a steal.  Its auction price is an eye-popping $13,500. 
Aphrodite eBay Auction Item

In 2011 an uglier Syrian limestone relief also went on auction.  Listed as Lot 69 in Sotheby’s June 8, 2011 auction, the object's provenance was listed as Sarkis and Haddad, Beirut, early 1970s.  Despite its humbler appearance, it still managed to find a buyer and fetched a modest sum of $8,125.

Going back to the Aphrodite website, I found a second, Syrian funerary relief of two brothers.  This one listed the object as coming from Palmyra with a provenance of having been purchased from Sotheby's New York in June 2011.  Buy it while it still lasts and collectors can get two funerary figures for a whopping $22,500.

Given the fragility of the Palmyra tombs and the many heritage sites damaged, at risk, or already looted as a result of the Syrian conflict, I wonder if it would be wiser if the experts shifted their focus away from statistical analysis to something more concrete.  Instead of trying to quantifying how much money ISIS/ISIL may, or may not, be making off of blood antiquities perhaps we should be stressing that more attention and funding is needed to trace who the individual traffickers are, both upstream and down.  If we do, Syria's cultural heritage might have a less grim outcome.   As for journalists in search of catchy headlines; vandalized tombs make just as dramatic a statement as vague value estimates and they can be substantiated with actual witnesses and imagery confirmation.

Aphrodite Website Auction Item
Given the gargantuan task of protecting antiquities in the midst of a civil war,  I think its pretty remarkable that DGAM had photo images matched so quickly to identify these pieces and to inform the public of their findings.  And while I am not prepared to go out on a brittle limb and assume any of these reliefs on sale or recently sold have dirty provenance, I do think their presence in the fine arts marketplace makes a pretty strong case that Syrian heritage objects are of interest to collectors.  The fact that they garner hefty sums further underscores that we have only seen the tip of the Syrian antiquities iceberg. 

Petty subsistence looters may fence objects for paltry amounts, middlemen fighters may take their cut, and end traffickers may make a bundle selling to auction houses and galleries, but all this useless faffing about of trying to put an unquantifiable dollar sign on how much its making which opponent in this war is doing nothing to stop the flow whatsoever.

In the end percentages are less relevant than simply understanding that collection-worthy pieces like these seen at auction or those stripped from Palmrya will surely find their way into the world's antiquities art market.  Maybe not immediately, but with the lack of market transparency and self policing, surely in the future.

Traffickers are patient.  So are collectors.

February 5, 2013

Leila Amineddoleh Quoted in NYTimes Article "Lawyers Fight to Keep Auction Sellers Anonymous"

In the Feb. 3 New York Times article ("Lawyers Fight to Keep Auction Sellers Anonymous") by investigative journalist Tom Mashberg (co-author of Stealing Rembrandts), art lawyer Leila Amineddoleh (ARCA Alum 2010) notes that disclosing the identity of the seller could 'aid with provenance questions and enhance the future value of an item.'

Mashberg reports that an appellate court ruled last October to uphold a state law that requires the names of sellers be given to buyers in post-auction paperwork in order to close the sale.

January 17, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - , No comments

Why do thieves steal paintings by Picasso?

Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves
 and Bust"/Estate of Pablo Picasso
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

After international headlines reported the theft of a Picasso painting from Greece last week, a Spanish journalist inquired with ARCA as to why paintings by Pablo Picasso were the target of so many art heists? Was it because the artist was so productive? Or because he was so famous? In response, I said that headlines also typically reported record sales or 'the most expensive paintings' and that in the past two decades, paintings by Picasso had been sold publicly through auction houses and dubbed as "most expensive painting") (Wikipedia)

Here's the list of Picasso paintings as sold from 1989 through 2010 with links to a sample headline heralding the sale (Year of sale, title of painting, reported sales price in millions of US dollars, and the auction house):

1989, Au Lapin Agile, $40.7MM, Sotheby’s New York;

1989, Yo, Picasso, $47.85MM, Sotheby’s, New York;
1989, Les Noces de Pierrette, $49.3MM, Binoche et Godeau, Paris;
1997, Le Rêve, $48.4MM, Christie’s, New York;

1999, Femme assise dans un jardin, $49.6MM, Sotheby’s, New York;
2000, Femme aux Bras Croisés, $55.0MM, Christie’s, New York;
2006, Dora Maar au Chat, $95.2MM, Sotheby’s New York;
2004, Garçon à la pipe, $104.2MM, 2004 Sotheby’s New York; and
2010, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, $106.5MM, Christie’s New York.

The publicity of record sales for Picasso paintings creates an awareness amongst thieves that the artworks by Picasso are valuable to both art collectors and the public.  A thief wouldn't need expert knowledge to determine which paintings on display are valuable, only access to the newspaper headlines reporting public sales of expensive art.