Monday, March 18, 2013

Paris and Back 2013

I feel compelled to share a little of what happened this past week in Paris, which certainly was a trip to be included as a chapter in the book that I will never write. We arrived a week ago last Wednesday and took just enough time to drop our suitcases off at the hotel before heading out to Quai Branly (or I now understand is simply MQB). MQB opened in 2006 as a result of at least partially of the efforts of President Chirac, the great art dealer Jacques Kerchache, and many others that I just don't know about. Madame Helene Joubert was given the task of moving 80,000 plus objects from the Musee d l'Homme and the old maritime museum of African and Oceanic art to the new museum. This was a monumental task that in my judgment was unnecessarily complicated by the poor design and construction of the new facility. The outside of the building looks very tired and much older than its actual age of six years. The interior consists of meandering viewing paths that move from one tight space to another - again something that I believe would be a curatorial nightmare. Signage is not great and often the very dark labels are impossible to read. The objects are superb and the primary reason why we made 3 visits in a week to see as much as possible. This opportunity as well as the visit to the Lions Gate entrance of the Louvre where the final group of new world and African masterpieces are installed beautifully were important to the success of this visit. In my judgment you just can't do an installation any better than the Louvre presented these extraordinary pieces. I will also remember the objects at MQB where we learned a great deal and added new images to our visual libraries. Again I salute the staff at MQB and their efforts in dealing so successfully with a very strange and unfortunately poorly designed museum.

The purpose of our visit was to spend time at Sothebys previewing the Pre-Columbian collection, which without a doubt will rival some of the great ethnographic auctions since Helena Rubenstein in the late 1960's in New York. Having said that I still am unable to predict what will happen and whether this auction will be a monetary success.  Sothebys and presumably John Paul Barbier went against convention in a number of ways. First the catalog is not organized geographically making it far more difficult to locate objects. Session two is loaded with all the important objects which will be offered in the evening session this coming Friday (starting early afternoon US time) . The estimates by consensus are extremely aggressive which if you are knowledgeable could dissuade one from bidding. On the other hand if your market is wealthy private bidders that aren't knowledgeable inflated estimates might suggest both importance and value. I sincerely believe that no one knows what will happen in this sale. If you need entertainment this weekend, then log on to the video feed out of Paris. One should not minimize the superb quality and fine early collection history of some of the objects in this collection. So I salute Sothebys for presenting this sale and for dealing with concerted international pressure to obstruct their efforts to present property that had been published and was visible to the world in Barcelona and in some cases far earlier when owned by Josef Mueller. There certainly is something inherently dishonest and wrong when these claims are made in the 11th hour primarily in most cases to muddy the waters. I hope the French government considers the merits on both sides.

John Lunsford and I walked everywhere; and, fortunately, the weather held permitting us to do this. While were busy from morning to night there was much to see and learn in this beautiful city.

As the title suggest, the return was as eventful as the trip itself. We were scheduled to leave at 11:30 this past Monday. Our American Airlines flight was cancelled  and we were stuck in the hotel until Tuesday morning when we made our way back out to the airport at around 11 for a 1 PM departure. It was snowing  and almost 3" had piled up strangling the French  transportation system. We were told that they had been unable to clear the snow from the front of the hanger to get our plane out. OK so it took til 6 PM to get the plane to the gate. By 7:05 we had been deiced and we were wheels up heading for the U.S. About an hour out the Captain said the late departure meant that we had to clear customs and immigration in Chicago. We arrived in Chicago, linked up with our bags and then cleared US customs and immigration while they towed the plane from the international side of Ohare to the domestic side where we re-boarded the plane. By 2:30 AM we landed in Dallas and I made it to bed by 4 AM.

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