Thursday, 10 June 2010

Christie's: Statement

Christie's have now issued a press statement following today's sale of antiquities. 64% of the lots were sold.

The top selling piece, a Roman bronze lamp stand with a youth (lot 131), went for $1,142,500. It appears to have surfaced in an anonymous Swiss private collection "prior to 1980".

G. Max Bernheimer, International Department Head of Antiquities ...: “These results reflect continuing strength and depth throughout the Antiquities market. The top end of the market continues to perform exceedingly well.”

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Damien Huffer said...

And to think, all that money spent just so so-called "elites" can own decontextualized pieces of the past and then pretend like they actually care about and "study" the Classical World or general prehistory. Thanks for demonstrating your flagrant irresponsability again, Christie's!

Marc Fehlmann said...

Now we know: The boring Canosa figure lot 112 sold for $ 7500.- within the estimate, and the not very attractive torso of a fat boy with a cockerel lot 139 sold as well for its lower estimate, but the Rhyton, lot 104, did not sell.

Should we take this as an indication that collectors are more cautious these days or rather that some of them still have bad taste? Can we claim that the “scandal” that was built up by linking these three objects to material in the Medici-archive did help to bring them back to their "source country" and give the Italians a solid ground for a legal claim?

There were other objects in that sale that did not have a wonderful history of previous ownership and that did well: the volute krater published by Trendall only in 1983 (lot 103) sold for more than twice the upper estimate and the amphora by the Bucci painter (lot 70. Bucci painter...?!) that only had surfaced in 1997 but that seems not to have a picture in the Medici file made slightly more than the lower estimate.

The trick with pulling out pictures from the Medici archive just days before they were being put to the hammer did not really work. The rhyton might find a buyer in an „after sale“ – if Christie’s is still doing them – and the three pieces will most likely not be returned to Italy for a while.

So we should ask why Italy has not submitted a formal title claim to Christie’s?

And again: Why do the Italians not share their Medici material with Interpol?

They clearly must change their strategy if they want to get back all Medici material that turns up on the open market, otherwise they will loose their credibility – and in the end – their case, while looting will go on and on and on …

Paul Barford said...

"The trick with pulling out pictures from the Medici archive just days before they were being put to the hammer did not really work".

I am not sure "trick" is the right word. Mr Fehlmann however hits the nail on the head by pointing out that most of the items in that same sale had the same shallow "provenances" but were not pictured in an infamous archive.

I think rather this is the question, it is not just "Mr Medici" that is the problem, but where ALL this recently "surfaced" material is coming from. The fact that in the (just) three cases we knew something about where they had been before what Christie's tells us begins hints that these may not be isolated cases of objects with questionable origins in this sector of the market. Many other dodgy dealers probably do not /did not maintain an archive to be found in a lucky police raid. That does not make any of the stuff they peddle necessarily any the more licit in origin.

The staff of a New York auction house may congratulate themselves that their sector of the antiquity market is doing well, but has at the same time revealed clearly on what that success depends.

While the market is dominated by could-not-care-less collectors and dealers who can count on that being the case, the looting WILL go on. It is the indiscriminating collector that is the realcause of the looting.

Marc Fehlmann said...

Mr Barford

What should be our objective? To help decrease the looting of archaeological sites or just to criminalize a market and consumers/ collectors of antiquities?

If the "trick" with the Medici files didn't work and all those wonderful international regulations don't work, if corruption is here and there and everywhere in source countries, then it is not only the collector and the dealer who should do his or her homework.

I mentioned Interpol again and again to show that international bodies that facilitate international cooperation are cut out of the process by those who claim to seek help. Why?

I also believe that we will never solve the problem if both sides keep "tough positions" and continue with their tirades.

Christie's is not a charity and runs its business to make a profit. That is legitimate. So we might have to find ways to change their corporate governance. As the moral aspect and negative publicity did not help, one might have to look for another way. Hence all those concerned about looting might want to rethink heir strategy.

If I'm not mistaken it was you who repeatedly proposed a system that registers antiquities and makes them "officially" salable. I believe that this is a solution worth exploring, while the name and blame game has clearly failed.

Unknown said...

As someone who quit an archeology phd program (abd) I have a comment. I read about all the concerns about antiquities without context, but realistically, what institution has the money to publish what already has been studied? There are excavations from the 1950s that have not been published, the professors are dying before publishing anything. Universities are cutting the budgets. Why ae all the comments about context always placed within an idealized world where every excavated work will be published and that most people will even read those publications. I find the state of funding for humanities declining in light of record deficits -- like Greece. Where is the sense of reality?
The lack of job opportunities is staggering -- tenured positions are disappearing, to be replaced with permanent adjuncts.

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