Thursday, February 28, 2013

Museums Do Have Responsibility to Their Visitors

I recently saw this announcement of an African exhibition of "three-dimensional traditional art from the early to mid 20th century". The Georgia Musem of Art is the official state museum of Georgia and is located in Athens, Georgia. Most museum goers are not going to pick up on exactly what this statement means, but it is providing some very definitive information about the works of art in this exhibition. It is categorically stating that exhibition consists of art made for appropriate ceremonial use by and for the appropriate ethnic group that would normally be expected to make and use such objects. The collection is owned by Don Kole, Chairman Emeritus of the Georgia Historical Society.  I don't know Mr. Kole although I recall a request for an appraisal of African art many years ago from Savannah. I have no recollection if this is the same collector. I do know that knowledgeable colleagues have told Mr. Kole that a substantial portion of his collection is not traditional amd was made for sale. At this point I have no idea if these are the same pieces in this museum exhibition. From the photos I have seen of a Pende mask, a Yoruba beaded robe, and a Kongo nail fetish, there are certainly stylistic elements in these objects that raise red flags for me. If Mr. Kole wants to send me a disk, I would be happy to comment on the exhibition. Regardless of what Mr. Kole does, the museum has a responsibility to their supporters and visitors to ensure that any exhibition they mount is represented correctly.
ATHENS, GA.- "The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia presents the exhibition “From Savanna to Savannah: African Art from the Collection of Don Kole” from Jan. 19 to April 14, 2013. Featuring more than 40 works of three-dimensional traditional art from the early to mid-20th century, the exhibition includes sacred, meaningful objects created by numerous peoples in sub-Saharan Africa. Works of art in various media—wood, bronze, terracotta, sandstone and cloth—from regions as diverse as Cameroon, Guinea, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo present examples from the visual and material culture of Africa that demonstrate cultural concepts and religious beliefs.

Chief curator and curator of American art Paul Manoguerra organized the exhibition from the collection of Don Kole, a Savannah-based real estate investor, with the assistance of William Darrell Moseley, a Tennessee-based expert in African art. Kole and his wife, Kaye, have long been passionate about African art and have made numerous trips to the continent to build their collection and educate themselves about traditional arts.

Manoguerra said, “These objects on display from the Kole Collection present the passion and enthusiasm of a Georgia collector for African art. The Georgia Museum of Art is proud to show these works of art from the Kole Collection and to display this sampling of the aesthetics of African art.”

Objects on view include furniture, masks, fertility dolls, pottery, weaponry, musical instruments and clothing, many of which bear elaborate decoration in the form of carving, paint or beading. The influence of African art on modern art is well documented, but Manoguerra said he believes these works can stand on their own aesthetically without being tied to the Western art historical canon.

This exhibition is part of an ongoing initiative by the museum to deal with African and African American themes, sparked in part by Larry and Brenda Thompson’s gift in early 2012 of a large collection of works by African American artists. Much of that gift is currently on tour in the exhibition “Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art,” which will open at the Knoxville Museum of Art in April 2013. GMOA has a history of displaying African art that dates as far back as the 1970s, although it has been some time since its last exhibition on the subject." 
Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes
June 16, 2013 to September 8, 2013
Kimbell Museum

"The Wari civilization formed in the wake of a late-sixth-century drought that ravaged the central Andean region of what is today Peru and parts of adjacent countries. It was a new cultural experiment that, over the next four centuries, produced a society of such unprecedented complexity that many today regard it as South America’s first empire. As predecessors of the Inca Empire, which fell to Spanish forces after 1532, the Wari had no previous examples of expansionist states to draw upon and thus represent a major development in Andean civilization.
Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, arriving at the Kimbell in June 2013, explores the Wari accomplishment through some 140 artworks in all major media in which they worked—polychrome ceramics, ornaments made of precious metals or colorful mosaics, sculptured wood and stone objects, and textiles of striking complexity. Together, these works paint a picture of the Wari state and offer insights into their expansion strategies.
Unlike their Maya contemporaries, the Wari never developed a written language. Thus, modern opinion about their achievement is based exclusively on their artwork and other material remains. In the absence of writing, the artworks that circulated throughout Wari society acted as vehicles of communication, recording and preserving the way in which the Wari regarded themselves, nature, and the divine realm. Many of the Wari’s greatest artistic accomplishments are realized in small, portable items—such as a Bag with Human Head—which could be transported across the Andean region, spreading the Wari culture to diverse and distant communities. It is through these images that we are able to gain access into the values and beliefs that shaped Wari society and contributed to its imperial expansion.
The exhibition is organized in four thematic sections. The Gift of Food and Drink presents vessels reconstructed from a three-ton buried deposit of deliberately shattered ceramics that may represent an offering of wares used in official feasts. Such feasts were lavish affairs with food and chicha (native corn beer) and apparently were a major element of Wari statecraft. They allowed Wari hosts to build prestige, assert authority, and indebt guests, since, then as now, gifts of any kind are rarely free. Wari feasts may have capitalized on the Andean belief that the world exists due to the interaction of two forces harmonized through the mutual dependence that reciprocity creates.
The Wari Realm demonstrates the spread of Wari imagery—most importantly, a staff bearing deity that was the focus of Wari state religion—to many areas of the Andes. This frontally posed supernatural being—seen, for example, on the Urn with Staff Deities—is probably a nature deity, perhaps the sun or thunder. It carries staffs of authority and is sometimes flanked by profile attendants in a formal expression of hierarchy that may have paralleled the Wari earthly political structure. Though the role of religion in the Wari’s expansion is not well understood, images such as this make it seem likely that religion and politics were part of a single process. Indeed, the art suggests that Wari lords drew their authority to some degree from affiliation with the divine and that they may have owed their success in part to the belief that they could mediate human and cosmic matters, thus shaping the lives of women and men.
The Art of Regalia examines the regalia worn by Wari lords and the spread of these objects to different places in the Andes, many perhaps as diplomatic gifts that fostered alliances or as imports treasured for their prestige. Among them are textiles—a crucial Andean art form—including elaborate tapestry-woven tunics, vibrantly colored tie-dyed garments, and cloth lavishly covered with exotic feathers. Remarkably, many of these Wari textiles have immediate contemporary appeal; the brightly hued tunics, worn as emblems of status, exhibit a penchant for hard-edged geometric shapes and intricate color patterning across a flat surface. Moreover, the sophisticated designs of the tapestry-woven tunics, the garments of elites and rulers, demonstrate an aptitude for experimenting with the form that is on par with twentieth-century artists. Also featured in this section are personal ornaments made of precious mosaic or noble metals.
Offerings and Ancestors considers offerings that the Wari made in varied contexts. One of the most common was the tombs of the honored dead, where many of the exhibition’s objects likely were found. The characteristics of highland tombs suggest that Wari elites venerated important ancestors, who probably endowed descendants with legitimacy and spiritual protection. The Wari also buried fine objects in offerings unassociated with human remains; these likely had varied votive or dedicatory purposes that are still under study. The most elaborate of such offerings included human figurines or well-decorated ceramics that were deliberately shattered in rites that must have impressed all who witnessed them.
Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes is only the second exhibition in the world to be devoted to the arts of the Wari Empire, and the first of its kind in North America. Bringing together objects from public and private collections all over the world, including several objects that have never been seen outside the countries in which they now reside, this exhibition offers a unique opportunity to experience an extraordinary civilization in great depth and detail.
This exhibition is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. It has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. It is supported in part by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities." Kimbell Museum

A Book Report - Arts of Nigeria

Many of us both in the U.S. and Europe have seen Nigeria, Arts of the Benue Valley, which is a extraordinary exhibition of great works that started at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles. At the end of  January it also wrapped up at Quai Branly in Paris. Which gives me a perfect opportunity and segue to mentioning a fabulous new book by the curator of African art at Quai Branly - Helene Joubert. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit to being a slight freak when it comes to admiring the great works of art from Nigeria. In my mind it is everything that African should be from the sublime to the powerful or the elegant to the grotesque. And yes it is my eye and my perspective that began with sharing Bob Armstrong's love of Nigeria art to learning from great scholars like Pemberton and Sieber. So permit me to be a total homer when it comes to discussing Arts of Nigeria in French Private Collections ( Five Continents 2012).

The images in this book are spectacular clearly showing how unpredictable the arts from this region can be. There are some excellent essays and interviews in the front that compliment  the works that follow. In the back are thumbnail images of each work with brief comments that are poignant adding to the understanding of the objects themselves.

I celebrate this art book which admittedly stands out dramatically when compared to the mediocre efforts that unfortunately are common and a waste of good trees.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

UNESCO Update AAMD January 29, 2013

In tribal art when we think about great single owner auction sales it's usually African and we are mentioning names like Rubenstein, Goldet, Verite and others. This spring in Paris Sothebys will offer the Barbier Pre-Columbian collection which recently was a permanent museum exhibition in Barcelona. As a consequence of international pressure for repatriation this sale may be one of the last of this quality and depth. Private collectors and public institutions cognizant of these pressures will find some relief in the early collection history of many of the major works previously owned by Joseph Mueller, John Paul Barbier's father-in-law who began collection in the 1920's.  This may be the last opportunity for many museums in the U.S. that now operate under AAM (American Alliance of Museums) guidelines that discourage acquiring objects not documented prior to 1970. 
The AAM website specifically states that: "In addition, the Alliance recommends that museums require documentation that the object was out of its probable country of modern discovery by November 17, 1970, the date on which the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was signed." In this issue I have provided more information from sources that address this issue and provides background history.
In previous issues I have discussed the ramifications of  AAM's position on acquisitions. I have suggested that these policies have hurt the Pre-Columbian market. I am sure Sothebys understands in the Barbier sale it could well drive prices up beyond even their estimates.  

I have reprinted below the AAMD's guidelines as revised on January 29, 2013

FINAL – Adopted by AAMD Membership January 29, 2013

4863796.12 1

Introduction to the Revisions to the 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art

In 2004, the Association of Art Museum Directors adopted guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art. In light of the experience of North American museums in implementing those guidelines for a number of years, the AAMD determined that changes were required and adopted revised guidelines in 2008. The principal change was the deletion of the provision that allowed the acquisition of objects with at least 10 years of provenance and the addition of a requirement for provenance demonstrating that the object was out of its country of modern discovery prior to or legally exported therefrom after November 17, 1970, with certain exceptions. Museums have now had experience with the 2008 revised guidelines and the AAMD has determined that additional changes should be made. This 2013 revision addresses gift and estate plans made, but not carried out, prior to the 2008 revision. The 2013 revision also adds certain definitions and examples, and clarifies that if an acquisition must be posted on the AAMD Object Registry because it was acquired based on an exception in the Guidelines, the posting must explain how the acquisition fits one or more of the exceptions.

The 2008 guidelines represented a significant change in the AAMD’s recommendation for acquisitions of archaeological material and ancient art. Those guidelines used the date of adoption of the UNESCO Convention, November 17, 1970, as a threshold for a more rigorous analysis of provenance information – an analysis not necessarily required by applicable law. The 2013 revisions, while they address a very limited universe of objects as exceptions to the 1970 date, maintain that threshold for FINAL – Adopted by AAMD Membership January 29, 2013
4863796.12 2

analysis of acquisitions of archaeological material and ancient art. The AAMD was encouraged in 2008 to see that the date of adoption of the UNESCO Convention was recognized not only by museums as a threshold for more rigorous analysis of acquisitions, but also by some countries as a voluntary limitation for enforcement of their cultural patrimony laws that predate the UNESCO Convention. The AAMD hopes that other countries will follow this precedent of voluntary restraint as the AAMD continues to encourage its members to pursue voluntary standards for acquisitions that are stricter than the requirements of applicable law.FINAL – Adopted by AAMD Membership January 29, 2013 4863796.12 3

Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art (revised 2013)

AAMD Mission Statement
The purpose of the Association of Art Museum Directors is to support its members in increasing the contribution of art museums to society. The AAMD accomplishes this mission by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of professional practice; serving as a forum for the exchange of information and ideas to aid its members in their professional roles as art museum directors; acting as an advocate for art museums; and being a leader in shaping public discourse about the arts community and the role of art in society.

The AAMD recognizes that the acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art has in recent years become an increasingly complex task that requires the careful consideration of a number of different and, at times, seemingly contradictory goals. This report is intended to help its members understand the issues they will face when evaluating the purchase or acceptance of a gift of archaeological materials and ancient art and provides a framework for responsible decision-making in the development of their collections. Acknowledging that these subjects are interrelated, it also reaffirms the importance and the possibility of protecting archaeological sites as well as collecting archaeological materials and ancient art. This dual objective can only be accomplished through enhanced cooperation between source countries (i.e., countries of modern discovery of archaeological materials and ancient art) and museums that collect such works as well as the development of a mutual understanding and respect for the rights of these countries to protect their cultural property and those of museums whose work is to enhance – through collecting, research, and exhibition – knowledge and appreciation of the artistic achievements of the past.

Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art (adopted by the membership of the AAMD, January 29, 2013)

I. Statement of Principles
A. AAMD is committed to the responsible acquisition, whether by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, of archaeological materials and ancient art. AAMD believes that the artistic achievements of all civilizations should be represented in art museums, which, uniquely, offer the public the opportunity to encounter works of art directly, in the context of their own and other cultures, and where these works may educate, inspire and be enjoyed by all. The interests of the public are served by art museums around the world working to preserve, study and interpret our shared cultural heritage.
4863796.12 4

B. AAMD deplores the illicit and unscientific excavation of archaeological materials and ancient art from archaeological sites, the destruction or defacing of ancient monuments, and the theft of works of art from individuals, museums, or other repositories.

C. AAMD is committed to the principle that acquisitions be made according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice and in accordance with applicable law and in such a way that they do not provide a direct and material incentive to looting

D. AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence in the acquisition process, in particular in the research of proposed acquisitions, transparency in the policy applicable to acquisitions generally, and full and prompt disclosure following acquisition.

E. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property began a new dialogue about the best ways to protect and preserve archaeological materials and ancient art, although regrettably the looting of sites, destruction of monuments and theft of objects continue to this day. The AAMD, along with others in the international community, including source countries, recognizes the date of this Convention, November 17, 1970, as providing the most pertinent threshold for the application of more rigorous standards to the acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art as well as for the development of a unified set of expectations for museums, sellers and donors.

F. Recognizing that a complete recent ownership history may not be obtainable for all archaeological material and every work of ancient art, the AAMD believes that its member museums
* should have the right to exercise their institutional responsibility to make informed and defensible judgments about the appropriateness of acquiring such an object if, in their opinion, doing so would satisfy the requirements set forth in the Guidelines below and meet the highest standards of due diligence and transparency as articulated in this Statement of Principles.

* "Member museum" means an art museum the director of which is a member of the AAMD.

G. AAMD reaffirms the value of licit markets for the legal sale and export of works of art as an effective means of deterring the illicit excavation and trafficking of archaeological materials and ancient art

H. AAMD encourages the creation of licit markets and strongly urges all nations to provide a legal method for the sale and export of art, thereby furthering the goal of deterring the illicit excavation and trafficking of archaeological materials and ancient art.
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II. Definitions

For purposes of these guidelines, the following terms shall have the meanings set forth below:

A. "Archaeological material" means an object of cultural significance created in antiquity and discovered on land, below ground or under water as a result of scientific or clandestine excavation, exploration or digging activities or inadvertently as a result of other activities;

B. "Ancient art" means a work of art created in antiquity that is not archaeological material;

C. "1970" means November 17, 1970;

D. "2008" means June 4, 2008; and

E. "Work" means an object of archaeological material or a work of ancient art.

III. Guidelines
Since its founding in 1916, AAMD has regularly published professional guidelines. Given the increasingly complex set of ethical questions and rapidly evolving legal issues that need to be considered in the acquisition process, AAMD has developed the following guidelines to assist members in revising their acquisition policies. These guidelines apply to acquisitions of archaeological materials and ancient art by purchase, gift, bequest, or exchange.

A. Member museums should thoroughly research the ownership history of a Work prior to its acquisition, including making a rigorous effort to obtain accurate written documentation with respect to its history, including import and export documents.

B. When the Work is being imported into the U.S.
in connection with its acquisition by the member museum, import documentation should be obtained and compliance with the export laws of the country of immediate past export to the U.S. should be confirmed.

For AAMD members located outside the United States of America, "U.S." means their country.

C. Member museums should require sellers, donors, and their representatives to provide all information of which they have knowledge, and documentation that they possess, related to the Work being offered to the museum, as well as appropriate warranties. 4863796.12 6

D. Member museums must comply with all applicable local, state, and federal U.S. laws, most notably those governing ownership and title, import, and other issues pertinent to acquisition decisions.

E. Member museums normally should not acquire a Work unless provenance research substantiates that the Work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

F. The AAMD recognizes that even after the most extensive research, many Works will lack a complete documented ownership history. Member museums may acquire such Works if:

1. Based on the results of provenance research, the museum can make an informed judgment that the Work was outside its probable country of modern discovery before 1970 or legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970, or

2. The cumulative facts and circumstances known to the museum after compliance with Sections III, A through D allow it to make an informed judgment to acquire the Work, consistent with the Statement of Principles above. Examples of such facts and circumstances include, but are not limited to:

a. The number, place and circumstances of independent exhibition(s) of the Work;

b. The number, type and circulation of publication(s) of the Work;

c. The length of time and place of public display(s) of the Work;

d. As to archaeological material, the provenance history of other Works excavated from the same site or area;

e. The prior owner(s) of the Work and any claims made against them with respect to other Works; and

f. Communications regarding the Work between the country of modern discovery and the current owner, a prior owner, or the museum, or

3. The acquisition of the Work is by gift or bequest and

a. the donor/testator signed prior to 2008 a promise to gift, a will, a trust, or other document setting forth her/his intent to donate or bequeath the Work to the museum;
4863796.12 7

b. the Work was on long term loan to the museum prior to 2008; or

c. the museum had an expectation prior to 2008 of receiving the Work by gift or bequest, as reflected in (i) a writing to or from the donor or a prior owner, (ii) communications with the donor or a prior owner, provided that the communications have been memorialized by the museum prior to acceptance of the gift or bequest or (iii) other documentation, or

4. The acquisition is of a fractional interest in the Work by gift, bequest or purchase and the museum acquired prior to 2008 a fractional ownership interest in the Work.

In the circumstances described in Items 1 through 4 above, the museum must carefully balance the possible financial and reputational harm of acquiring the Work against the benefit of collecting, presenting, and preserving the Work in trust for the educational benefit of present and future generations.

G. The museum should promptly publish acquisitions of archaeological materials and ancient art, in electronic form, including an image of the Work (or representative images in the case of groups of objects) and its provenance, thus making this information readily available to all interested parties.

H. In addition to the publication requirement set forth in Section G above, if a member museum acquires a Work under circumstances contemplated in Section F above, the member museum must post on the AAMD object registry an image of the Work (or representative images in the case of groups of objects) and its provenance as well as an explanation of why the acquisition of the Work is consistent with Section F above.

I. If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a Work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the Work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a Work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the Work, as has been done in the past. 4863796.12 8

IV. Acquisition Policies

Member museum directors and others responsible for museum governance should develop acquisition policies and guidelines for provenance research consistent with the above Guidelines.

Barbier - Mueller Pre-Columbian Sale - World View

Stephane Martin is President of Quai Branly in Paris. This article is worth a reprint.
Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller: Connecting With Cultures
BY: Stéphane Martin| February 15, 2013 2:26 PM
Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller. © abm – Barbier-Mueller Archives.

- Jean Paul Barbier-mueller spent over half a century assembling an exceptional collection of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art. At an historic sale to be held in Paris this March, Sotheby’s will offer his collection of Pre-Columbian art – first begun by his father-in-law Josef Mueller nearly one hundred years ago. Barbier-Mueller discusses his passion as a collector and museum director with Stéphane Martin, President of the Musée du Quai Branly, in a conversation organised by Connaissance des Arts.

Stéphane Martin: How would you define your way of collecting compared to that of your father-in-law, Josef Mueller, who greatly influenced your taste initially?

Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller: He was my mentor. He expanded my horizons and gave me an insight on the world. When I met my wife in 1952, I had been passionately collecting antiquarian books since I was fifteen or sixteen. I adored antiquities as well, as I loved history. But I don’t come from a wealthy family, and did not start buying important objects until I was well into my thirties.

Josef Mueller was an extraordinary person. He lived in the depths of rural Switzerland, and was orphaned at age six. The father of one of his friends ran a paper mill and was interested in Contemporary art. One of the works he owned really caught my father-in-law’s imagination: a Picasso from 1905 – a marvellous female profile from his Pink Period. My father-in-law was only about sixteen at the time. He went on to meet the artists Cuno Amiet and Ferdinand Hodler, and bought a Hodler when he was twenty: Die Liebe (Love), a huge painting of a nude couple embracing, which was withdrawn from an exhibition in Zürich for obscenity. Hodler insisted on meeting the young student who had just purchased his painting.

Picasso’s Portrait of Fernande Olivier introduced Josef Mueller to art.

By 1918, when he was thirty, Josef Mueller already owned four or five Picassos, and just as many Matisses. He had a vision. When he was twenty, he wrote a very moving letter explaining that he had “discovered the goal of [his] life towards which all [his] thoughts, effort and feelings will be directed. And this star shining before [his] eyes, in the night of a changing, agitated world – this lone star, peaceful and far off – is Art.”

In 1957 Josef Mueller exhibited his collection in his hometown of Solothurn, Switzerland. © abm – Barbier-Mueller Archives.

When did you first think that your collections formed an ensemble in need of organised presentation?
I had a large house in the country with a farm, and a huge room on the first floor. I had a sort of private exhibition room there, where I could entertain friends.

So you already had a small museum in the house?

Yes. And, whenever I acquired a new object, I would put it in place of another one, so I could see it as soon as I opened the door. I liked to go and sit down and contemplate these objects. Then word got round, and people asked if they could come and have a look. In 1974 my business was doing well and I was able to buy two neighbouring buildings, one with a large space that wasn’t used for anything. It was not brilliantly situated, but I had nothing to lose. So I sorted it out and installed my first museum there. That was in 1977. The need to stage new exhibitions prompted me to acquire new works, and fill up gaps in my collection with the eyes of a museum director rather than a collector.

Josef Mueller’s prized Le Jardinier Vallier sparked a collecting tradition that has spanned generations. © abm – Barbier-Mueller Archives.

You belong to the breed of savvy collectors.

I was captivated by the sensual pleasure we can experience just by gazing at an object, and by engaging in a dialogue with it – especially in the fields of African and Oceanic art, where I tended to buy more as a collector than as a museum director. I sometimes bought Indonesian or Pre-Columbian pieces, which perhaps had slightly less appeal, but which I thought both beautiful and indispensable for completing the collection.

You have made many donations to French museums, especially the Musée du Quai Branly and the Pavillon des Sessions at the Louvre. Is there any difference in how you look at things displayed in a museum, which are commercially unavailable, and objects in private hands that may be for sale?
No, not really. I admire an object wherever it is. I’m not jealous. I have so many objects at home – very fine objects. I would happily have one flat here, another one there, and be able to spread the collection out among them.

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the third time in your career as a collector and museum director that you have decided to sell a coherent part of your collection. What goes through your mind when you part with an ensemble that has been painstakingly assembled over the years?

Basically, I’ve always collected Pre-Columbian art, but as a dilettante. I was twenty-two when my father-in-law, Josef Mueller, sent me to collect an Inca mortar he had bought from Charles Ratton, who had exchanged it before the war with a museum in Berlin. It was the first time I had ever held an important Pre-Columbian object in my hands. I bought my own first Pre-Columbian pieces together with my father-in-law, from a Geneva gallery in 1955.

When we were mounting the exhibition to commemorate the Columbus quincentenary in 1992 – it travelled to the top museums in Spain and Portugal, ending at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon – we selected 200 items. I became really caught up in the project, and started visiting specialist dealers to complete the collection. Provenance was always a concern, and I was able to purchase various objects acquired back in the 1960s from the Guy Joussemet Collection – also the source of the figure that now serves as your emblem at the Musée du Quai Branly.

Collectors Monique and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller have continued her father’s collecting tradition. © abm – Barbier-Mueller Archives.

Are you keeping anything from this ensemble of Pre-Columbian art?

Not really, just a few presents.

Pre-Columbian art can obviously be sub-divided into various entities. Which one do you like best?

That’s like asking me which of my three sons I prefer! They’re so different. But I really like the art of Central America – I mean ceramics from Panama, though they are not the rarest or most expensive things you can find. And I love the art of Amazonia with its broad gestures. I like objects that help us feel that man is trying to surpass himself. It’s the same with Olmec artists. There was nothing before Olmec art, and then – whoosh! Around 1200 BC there suddenly appeared these figures with their hands on their cheeks, thighs or hips... extraordinary. That’s what touches me most: the movement and freedom of Olmec art.

Stéphane Martin is President of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.


Barbier - Mueller Pre-Columbian, Sothebys March 22nd

PARIS MARCH 2013: I have written several times about this collection which now is just weeks away from being sold in Paris. As I have watched the press releases it seems apparent that this even is drawing worldwide attention. The two focal points of the sale seem to be the great Chupicuaro figure which at 28" is monumental by any standards. The fact that this "Grande Venus"(Lot 137)  is also in great condition, has a superb collection history, and is masterpiece might well be enough to justify the reserve of 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 euros. One can only speculate as to whether this price range will seem reasonable to any major institutions or whether it might find a home in the private sector.  It's difficult not to hope that it winds up in an institution where the price of admissions guarantees visiting rights. The other object which has been heavily promoted by Sothebys is the flying Tarascan duck (Lot 160). This wonderful ceramic also has a collection history that complies wit the new guidelines followed by US museums as written and amended in January 29, 2013 by AAMD (Alliance of American Museum Directors). It is the cover piece on the Barbier catalogue.

The auction sale will be regarded in the company of Helena Rubenstein (Sothebys 1966), Goldet (Sothebys 2006) Verite (Sothebys) and other single owner sales with distinguished and very expensive objects. The Barbier sale is unique in that it is the first single owner Pre-Columbian sale of this quality. At a time when collectors and institutions alike are worried about UNESCO, ICOM, and UNIDROIT it is also the first offering with a significant number of objects that have been documented to have acquired prior to November 1970.

If you are accustomed to the order of past Pre-Columbian catalogs, get ready to be confused by the chaos of presenting objects with no apparent rationale. Lot 159 is an anthropomorphic urn from the Amazon Basin. Lot 160 is our flying Tarascan duck (AD 1200 - 1521)  from Michoacan Mexico. Lot 161 is a seated Veracruz figure dating 600 - 900 AD. The entire catalog jumps from country to country and time period to time period. Maybe not a big deal but if you are trying to find an object, it can make you a little nuts.