Monday, November 28, 2011

Common Sense in Your Art World

Associating common sense with the passionate pursuit of art may seem to many to be an oxymoron that can never be rationalized. The results of decisions made in haste can easily be seen to be not very prudent. But that is Monday morning quarterbacking and a talent that many in our society such as TV pundits, stock analysts, doctors etc display with exuberance. I have spoken in many articles about the importance of not being afraid to ask questions of  anyone in authority. You don't need to be an expert to have common sense.
Recently I ran into an announcement from Peter Hermann Galleries in Berlin advertising an exhibition opening on November 20th of 27 bronzes from the Paul Gran collection. At the outset in the interest of full disclosure I don't know Peter Hermann, Paul Garn or really have any knowledge of the German tribal art market.  And for the all the reasons stated above it seemed to me that the silence on the internet was deafening. If someone had found a documented fully tested collection of 27 early Benin and Ife bronzes, why isn't it news all over the internet? Why aren't people excited? But wait this is the second collection Mr. Hermann has found. His website states that in 2007 " The Gallery Peter Herrmann is showing 75 bronze objects from 11th till 19th centuries, among them heads and figures from Ife, as well as reliefs, statues, heads and animals from Benin. All objects, which came onto the market in the 20th century are certified by TL-Expertises. Opening: 28th February 2007."
The TL testing was done by Kotalla Labs which must have received clay core samples from all 75 pieces. What are the odds of having clay cores that could be tested on every object in the exhibition?
What are the odds of over 100 authentic early Ife and Benin bronzes would be found by one gallery owner in Berlin. I would say Las Vegas would be betting large against. But I am getting ahead of myself.
With 37 years in the business as a gallery owner and appraiser let's say Peter Hermann has decided to hire me as his independent consultant to advise him on the selling of his collection worldwide.  And let's say I accept with the stipulation that I have complete control and a sufficient budget to test, authenticate, and market the collection.
Step one -  test and authenticate the collection. My vetting process would answer any question posed by any potential buyer before it was asked. The authentication process includes a stylistic analysis, metallurgical and core (if present) testing, conservation analysis to determine surface conditions, production methodology, and restoration etc., and finally thorough research of the collection history. All the above would be accomplished by independent sources with no contact to Peter Hermann, the gallery, or anyone involved in the acquisition or selling of the collection. I would have two independent testing labs supervising the data sample collection and doing the actual testing.
And you say that's economically not very practical. With more than one Benin head being sold recently in the millions of dollars and with the current market for top material reaching unparalleled heights, you can't afford not to do your homework.
If the collection passes this process, it is time to market and sell the collection. I would  hire  Alain Monbrison, Paris dealer and auctioneer of the Goldet and Verite collections to sell the collection at auction. Previously unknown, authentic, early-but-well documented Benin and Ife material properly marketed worldwide to include China and the Middle East could potentially net Mr. Hermann an enormous amount of money.
Instead Mr. Hermann has chosen to not fully explore independent sources for testing and stylistic analysis and decided to become his own expert and source of authentication preferring to argue his own case (see: . Why waste the time and effort, just let the objects speak for themselves after they have been independently verified. If he has what he says, his response makes no sense. And it is not logical.

I have not reviewed Hermann's data, so I certainly can't say whether the material is authentic. Common sense says you, as a buyer, should certainly be asking questions. As an authenticator and an appraiser, there are certainly a number of red flags that need to be resolved. Maybe Peter Hermann is the luckiest guy in the world. And then again maybe he is not.

1 comment:

ruichasend said...

Having John appraise several tribal masks from New Guinea a few years ago, I can attest to his professionalism and honesty; ergo, my sense is to heed his cautionary words.
Richard Cornell, Emeritus Professor, Casselberry, Florida