Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ivory Update Winter 2016

It has become more and more difficult to keep politics out of this blog; however, this proposed legislation is way over the top. The fact that legislation can be proposed in the United States making it illegal to own something that was acquired and possessed legally doesn't resemble any government that I know. I think many of my liberal friends would agree that this is beyond all recognized constitutional governmental limits. We will keep you informed..

Connecticut Bill Would Make Possessing Ivory a Felony

Preying upon Animal Rights groups’ propaganda about Cecil the Lion, Connecticut introduced SB 227 that would make it a felony to own any object containing any elephant ivory.  That’s right – 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for owning a piano with ivory keys, an antique cane with an ivory handle, or a shotgun with an ivory sight bead.
This is the latest iteration of so-called “Cecil Laws” that ban “Big 5 African Species.”  While these bills aren’t even consistent about which 5 species they cover, so far they all include elephants, lions and rhinos.
This bill is particularly bad because it goes beyond trade to criminalize possession of any specimen from any named species.   The only exception for private owners is if you (1) own a specimen in the state before the law was passed AND (2) get a “certificate of possession” from Connecticut’s Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection.  Even if you get the certificate, you cannot sell or trade any covered item.  No exceptions for people who come to Connecticut after the law is passed.  No exceptions for people who bring ivory or other covered items into the state.  The full bill can be found at
For a long time, I’ve warned people that the Animal Rights groups use antique and musical instrument exemptions to divide and conquer people who own and trade legal ivory.  Here is a prime example of what they will continue to push for.  This bill even goes so far as to explicitly authorize searches and seizures in people’s homes if “any law enforcement officer” gets a warrant based on probable cause belief that you own a piece of ivory or other covered specimen.
The Environment Committee will conduct a public hearing on Friday, March 4, 2016 at 12:30PM in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CT.  Sign-ups to testify begin at 8:15 AM.  Unless people show up to testify, especially Connecticut voters, this bill or something very close to it is likely to pass.
If you can’t testify live, you can submit written testimony to  Be sure to identify yourself and the bill (SB 227) on any written testimony.
By the way, for people who are uncomfortable with hunting, I suggest reading  This article, and others like it, show that safari hunting is not poaching, and that stripping this means of generating revenue from conservancies is certain to do far more damage to these species than legal hunts ever could.  You don’t have to like to hunt to understand the important role it plays in countries that have responsible conservation programs.  Don’t be tricked into attacking hunters when the underlying policy behind this ban is as bad for the animals as it is for law abiding people.
If you have questions, please write to me at

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:
Section 1. (NEW) (Effective from passage) (a) For purposes of this section, "big five African species" means any specimen of any of the following members of the animal kingdom: African elephant (loxodonta africana), African lion (panthera leo), African leopard (panthera pardus pardus), black rhinoceros (diceros bicornis) and white rhinoceros (ceratotherium simum cottoni), including any part, product or offspring thereof, or the dead body or parts thereof, except fossils, whether or not it is included in a manufactured product or in a food product.
(b) No person shall import, possess, sell, offer for sale or transport in this state any big five African species.
(c) Any law enforcement officer shall have authority to enforce the provisions of this section and, whenever necessary, to execute any warrant to search for and seize any big five African species imported, possessed, sold, offered for sale or transported in violation of this section.
(d) Unless such activity is otherwise prohibited by federal law, the provisions of subsection (b) of this section shall not apply if any of the following conditions exist: (1) Such specimen of a big five African species was located or possessed within the state prior to the effective date of this section and the legal owner of such specimen obtained a certificate of possession from the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection; (2) such specimen of a big five African species is to be part of a temporary or permanent collection of a museum that has a tax exemption from the federal Internal Revenue Service as an educational or scientific institution, provided such specimen is not subsequently sold, offered for sale, traded, bartered or distributed to any other party; or (3) such specimen of a big five African species is distributed directly to a legal beneficiary of a trust or to a legal heir provided: (A) Such specimen was located or possessed by the decedent prior to the effective date of this section, (B) such beneficiary or heir does not subsequently sell, offer for sale, trade, barter or distribute such specimen to any other person, and (C) such beneficiary or heir obtains a certificate of possession from the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection not later than one hundred eighty days after receipt of such specimen.
(e) Any specimen of a big five African species and any other property or item used in connection with a violation of the provisions of this section shall be seized and held pending any criminal proceeding pursuant to this section.
(f) Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a felony and fined not more than ten thousand dollars and imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
(g) Upon conviction of a person for violation of the provisions of this section or upon the entry of a judgment restraining a defendant from importing, possessing, selling, offering for sale or transporting any specimen of a big five African species on the grounds that such activity is or would be a violation of the provisions of this section, any specimen of a big five African species and any other property or item that is seized and held pursuant to this section shall be forfeited and, upon such forfeiture, destroyed.
Sec. 2. Subsection (d) of section 26-311 of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective from passage):
(d) Nothing in section 1 of this act or sections 26-303 to 26-312, inclusive, or any regulations adopted pursuant to said sections shall prohibit transportation through this state of any endangered or threatened species in accordance with the terms of any permit issued under the laws of another state provided the person in possession of an endangered or threatened species can prove legal possession of the species.

This act shall take effect as follows and shall amend the following

My Word Winter 2016

In this issue we cover the hit both Christies and Sothebys have taken in the high end market. We have also noted that the auction houses have again turned their attention back to  the middle markets recognizing that they were leaving significant cash on the table. The problem is simple. How do you make potential buyers feel comfortable buying online. Brick and mortar solutions are far too expensive and time consuming to make this a viable model. The solution must be online. The greater the confidence of the buyer, the higher the lot level is and the more efficient and profitable your selling efforts become.

My recent trip to Houston and the opportunity to see the Virgin of Guadalupe exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science was well worthwhile. If you are in Houston this is a worthwhile stop for you.

In this issue we also note efforts from state and federal government to  regulate the art world through tax policy. It seems this has been coming for a long time as the ongoing search to find the funds to sustain the bloated government finally finds the art world.

We all travel too much..You might enjoy the Wall Street Journal article in this issue on the cheapest day to buy a ticket.

Finally, when I first entered the business in 1974, Mert Simpson was considered the top African art dealer in the world. Mert's stroke and then death in 2013 were important moments in our field as we witnessed the passing of a fine man who contributed much to our field. Unfortunately disagreements and strife among the beneficiaries have made it impossible to settle the estate. New York state took over and asked me to assist. Last December  my colleagues and I cataloged and triaged over 1600 objects and it certainly was not what we expected. Hidden amidst some of the mundane objects were some fine pieces to include a Von Luschan documented 16th century Benin plaque. All will be sold in two sales in late Spring and early Fall. This includes Mert's huge archive dating back more than fifty years.We will provide updates as we spend more time matching up objects to Mert's archive.

You might want to check out the images in this newsletter of some of the objects we have found in the last few months.

Gallery Art - Winter 2016

 Hungana figure
Democratic Republic of the Congo

Inca gold figure
1425 CE - 1532 CE

Niger Delta figure
Nigeria, West Africa
TL Daybreak 8/12/86 
between 540 and 1000 years ago

Suku mask
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Late19th to Early 20th

 Teke mask
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Late 19th to Early 20th century

Maya shell
Palenque, State of Chiapas, Mexico
AD 600 to 900

Inca Ilama
1425 CE - 1532 CE

Photos Around The World Winter 2016

Lake Baikal is an ancient, massive lake in the mountainous Russian region of Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. Considered the deepest lake in the world, it’s circled by a network of hiking paths called the Great Baikal Trail. The village of Listvyanka, on its western shoreline, is a popular starting point for summertime wildlife-spotting tours, plus wintertime ice-skating and dog sledding.

With their unique shape and imposing stature, the majestic baobab trees have been an icon of Madagascar's landscape for centuries, unmovable symbols of the tropical island's luscious scenery.
Six out of the eight species of the long-lived tree are endemic to Madagascar, the island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.
The stunning country is home to a rich ecosystem that boasts an incredible mosaic of animal and plant life evolved for tens of millions of years in complete isolation. As a result 90% of Madagascar's wildlife exists nowhere else on the planet.
In the midst of it all, the mighty baobab has stood tall for generations, its barrel-like trunk reaching a height of 18 meters.
Often described as "the upside down tree" due to its unusual shape -- the tree's branches look like roots sticking up in the air -- the baobab has sparked many legends throughout the centuries. An ancient myth goes that when the gods planted the trees, they kept walking away so they placed them upside down.

 Copán is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization located in the Copán Department of western Honduras, not far from the border with Guatemala. It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. The city was located in the extreme southeast of the Mesoamerican cultural region, on the frontier with the Isthmo-Colombian cultural region, and was almost surrounded by non-Maya peoples. Discovered in 1570 by Diego García de Palacio, the Maya site of Copan is one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilization. The site is functioned as the political, civil and religious centre of the Copan Valley. It was also the political centre and cultural focus of a larger territory that covered the southeast portion of the Maya area and its periphery.

The first evidence of population in the Copan Valley dates back to 1500 B.C., but the first Maya-Cholan immigration from the Guatemalan Highlands is dated around 100 A.D. The Maya leader Yax Kuk Mo, coming from the area of Tikal (Petén), arrived in the Copan Valley in 427 A.D., and started a dynasty of 16 rulers that transformed Copan into one of the greatest Maya cities during the Classic Maya Period. The great period of Copán, paralleling that of other major Mayan cities, occurred during the Classical period, AD 300-900. Major cultural developments took place with significant achievements in mathematics, astronomy and hieroglyphic writing. The archaeological remains and imposing public squares reveal the three main stages of development, during which evolved the temples, plazas, altar complexes and ball courts that can be seen today, before the city was abandoned in the early 10th century.

The Mayan city of Copán as it exists today is composed of a main complex of ruins with several secondary complexes encircling it. The main complex consists of the Acropolis and important plazas. Among the five plazas are the Ceremonial Plaza, with an impressive stadium opening onto a mound with numerous richly sculptured monoliths and altars; the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with a monumental stairway at its eastern end that is one of the outstanding structures of Mayan culture. On the risers of this 100 m wide stairway are more than 1,800 individual glyphs which constitute the longest known Mayan inscription. The Eastern Plaza rises a considerable height above the valley floor. On its western side is a stairway sculptured with figures of jaguars originally inlaid with black obsidian.

Hungary village lakeside

The Northern Lights are formed by particles emitted by the sun during solar explosions. When these particles interact with the atmosphere in the Earth's magnetic field, energy is released, causing these peculiar luminous green streaks across the skies. Sightings are immediately improved outside populated areas, especially away from the light-pollution of the capital.

On clear winter nights, many sightseeing trips are organized around this spectacular—though fickle—natural phenomenon. The ideal location for sightings varies and excursion leaders are skilled in "hunting" the lights, finding locations where conditions are best for seeing them on any given night. There are no guarantees that you will see the aurora borealis during your stay, but in almost all cases, however, sightings are immediately improved outside populated areas, especially away from the light-pollution of the capital.

However, the Northern Lights are sometimes visible from within the city, and on many cold winter nights news spread quickly between locals around town, who implore each other to go out for a look at our local wonder. The Icelandic Met Service provides a daily Northern Lights forecast, which will further improve your chances of catching this wonderful display of nature.

A curious fox kit in Southern Estonia waited until its mother left for food before emerging from its den to observe the neighborhood.

Hundreds of tiny star-like bioluminescent phytoplankton shining brightly near the shore were captured in a breathtaking photo of the ocean with glowing plankton near Larak Iran.
Plankton that can glow in the dark are considered "bioluminous" and could give off a blue, green, red or orange glow. Bioluminescence comes from “bio,” meaning life, and “lumin,” meaning light.
Bioluminescent plankton don’t glow all of the time since it takes energy to create the chemicals that allow them to glow.
 CROATIA - Within the boundaries of this heavily forested national park, 16 crystalline lakes tumble into each other via a series of waterfalls and cascades. The mineral-rich waters carve through the rock, depositing tufa in continually changing formations. Clouds of butterflies drift above the 18km of wooden footbridges and pathways which snake around the edges and under and across the rumbling water.
It takes upwards of six hours to explore the lakes on foot, or you can slice two hours off by taking advantage of the park's free boats and buses (departing every 30 minutes from April to October). From Entrance 2, catch the bus to the top of the upper lakes and wander back down to the shore of Kozjak , the park's largest lake (about 4km in length). A boat will whisk you from here to the lower lakes, where the circuit culminates in the aptly named Veliki Slap , the tallest waterfall in Croatia (78m). The path then climbs steeply (offering great views and photo opportunities) to a bus stop, where you can grab a lift back to Entrance 2.
If you've got limited time, the upper lake section can be completed in two hours. The lower section takes about three, although we recommend that you start with the bus ride and end with the boat to save yourself a climb.
Rowboats can be hired from the shores of Lake Kozjak near Entrance 2 (50KN per hour). Note: swimming is not permitted in any of the lakes.
Read more:
Jutting diagonally into the sky from the old port of Rio de Janeiro is an other-worldly edifice that looks like a cross between a solar-powered dinosaur and a giant air conditioning unit.
The Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) must already rank as one of the world’s most extraordinary buildings. It may soon also become known for one of the planet’s most powerful arguments for sustainability. Mixing science and art, the 230m reais (£40m/$59m) institution devotes itself to a topic that is divisive and often depressing: the need for change if mankind is to avoid climate disaster, environmental degradation and social collapse. For Mayor Eduardo Paes – who will inaugurate the building at a ceremony with President Dilma Rousseff – the museum is the most striking example yet of the regeneration and gentrification of Rio’s port district. Ten years ago this was one of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas. Today it is in the midst of a vast redevelopment that should make it one of the most desirable areas in Rio. The overhead expressway – the Perimetral – has been demolished, new plazas have opened up, the poor have been driven out and the wealthy corporate residents, including Trump Tower developers, are being invited in.
To attract them, a new Museum of Art was completed here two years ago. It is impressive, but the Museum of Tomorrow is on another scale altogether.
The structure – which was supposed to have opened before last year’s World Cup – looks set to be one of Rio’s most famous tourist sights. With solar spines that bristle above and a fan-like skylight below, it is designed to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Catalan architect Santiago Calatrava says he was inspired by the bromeliads in Rio’s Botanical Gardens. Inside, however, the whitewashed curves are more reminiscent of the 1960s concrete modernism of Oscar Niemeyer.
Funded by the Rio city government with support from sponsors, the building attempts to set new standards of sustainability in the municipality. Compared with conventional buildings, designers say it uses 40% less energy (including the 9% of its power it derives from the sun), and the cooling system taps deep water from nearby Guanabara Bay. Museum of Tomorrow is in Rio de Janeiro’s old port district.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Upcoming Auctions Winter 2016

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced that selected works from the famed African Art Collection of Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm will be offered in an international two-part sale series in New York and Paris this spring. In almost 50 years of collecting together, the Malcolms carefully assembled a survey of best-of-type examples of the major sculptural styles of Sub-Saharan Africa, which is today known as one of the finest and most well-respected private collections in the field. As a tribute to the universal quality of this collection, Sotheby’s will present the selections in a unique two-part sale series, beginning with 12 lots to be offered on May 7 in New York and followed by another 12 lots of equal caliber to be offered on June 22 in Paris, with each respective selection representing a cross-section true to the exceptional quality and breadth of the whole collection. Overall, the series is expected to fetch in excess of $10 million.

Dr. Marian Malcolm and her late husband Dr. Daniel Malcolm (1929-2015) acquired their first piece of African Art in 1966 and spent the following decades building a collection of outstanding breadth and quality, acquiring works in the American market and also during their travels in Europe. The couple brought a refined and scholarly approach to collecting, drawing on a deep, personal connection to the universal humanity of art as expressed by the sculptors of classical Africa. The Malcolms were extremely generous in their support of museums and academic institutions, frequently loaning works from their collection to many of the most prestigious museum exhibitions of the last several decades including those held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum for African Art (formerly the Center for African Art), New York, the National Museum for African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and contributing to institutional acquisition funds. Their willingness to share their enthusiasm for these artworks with the general public has contributed greatly to the wider public perception of African Art. Most recently, several works from their collection were included in the critically-acclaimed exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Jean Fritts, International Chairman, African & Oceanic Art at Sotheby’s commented: “The collection of Daniel and Marian Malcolm represents a lifetime of true connoisseurship in the finest tradition of our field. They assembled a wide collection of the highest quality as they shared the wonder of African Art with the frequent visitors to their home from both America and abroad, as well as the
thousands who saw pieces from the collection in the many museum exhibitions to which they contributed. We are delighted and honored to present these two sales to collectors around the world.”

2. NEW YORK - African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian Art, 07 May 2016 | 10:00 AM EDT | New York, Sale Number: N09502
Sotheby’s annual auction of African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian Art will be held on May 7 at the height of the auction season in New York. The sale will be led by a magnificent, monumental, and historic “Uli” statue from the island of New Ireland, which is the finest example of this iconic type in existence. Dating to the 18th century or earlier, the statue has been in the same private collection for over 35 years and was previously in the collections of Charles Ratton, Arthur Speyer, and the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin. Also on offer will be a carefully curated range of fine classical African Art, featuring selections from American and European private collections.

3. PARIS,  Binoche Giquello Auction House IMPORTANTE VENTE D'ART PRECOLOMBIEN - DE L’ANCIENNE COLLECTION VANDEN AVENNE. Mercredi 23 mars 2016 à 14h30
Drouot Richelieu - Salles 1 - 7
On March 23rd of this year, the auction house Binoche and Giquello will scatter by auction the biggest collection of pre-Colombian Art, around Mexico and around Guatemala, never collected until now in Europe. This extraordinary set, constituted between the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, is the testimony of the passion of a man who knew how to ally in its choices the rare and the beautiful. Covering the preclassic period until the periods Huastèques and Aztecs, these 70 funeral objects of a remarkable quality, reflect the incredible wealth of the Mesoamérican cultures. They offer a fascinating, sometimes intriguing esthetic view, where the world of the deaths is close to that of the alive and where the most modest objects are raised to the rank of masterpieces.

Binoche and Giquello present here what is certainly one of the most important European collections of pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican art. A unique collection, that began to be assembled during the 1960s and early 1970s. From 1976 onwards most of the items in this fine collection were displayed in Brussels in the exhibition “Art de Mésoamérique”, accompanied by an important catalogue in which most of the items were reproduced.

Sixteen years later, 1992, Belgium celebrated the 5th centenary of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. The Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels commemorated this event with the finest exhibition ever mounted world-wide concerning America before the arrival of the Spanish. It displayed objects from different cultures and civilisations from Alaska in the North to southern Patagonia, so traversing the entire American continent.

The selection of objects for the Meso-American section (Mexico-Guatemala) ran to one hundred and thirty items from leading museums throughout the world (Metropolitan Museum, New York, Kimbell Art Museum, Cleveland Museum, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, The British Museum and the future Musée du Quai Branly to name a few), and the most important private collections. Thirteen items from our group are reproduced in the magnificent catalogue, still a basic reference, produced on this occasion. What strikes us, considering this collection, is the vision of a man who knew how to combine the rare with the beautiful. It leads us on an aesthetic voyage where even the most modest objects are of the quality of master-pieces.

“In the beginning was the Word, No ! In the beginning was emotion, the word was invented next to replace the emotion” said Céline. It is the case for this magnificent collection.

The sale begins with Pre-classic statues (1200-600 before Christian Era), that is the most ancient known, derived from the sites of Tlatilco, Las Bocas and Xochipala in Mexico, with some magnificent Venus estimated from 8 000 to 25 000€.

The village cultures of West Mexico (Proto-classic, 100 BCE – 250 CE) are represented by an imposing couple, Nayarit culture (estimated 40 000/60 000€), and by a very lovely, red, Colima earthenware mask (estimated 18 000/20 000€).

Some rare Teotihuacan culture objects will be presented, among them a funerary mask in green hard-stone from the Classical period (450-650), estimated from 300 000 to 400 000€.

This is followed by two Monte Alban urns, exceptional for their beauty and fine state of preservation (450-650), the larger one estimated between 250 000 and 300 000€, the smaller one, 80 000 to 100 000€.

The sale continues with ceramic figures representing priests or dignitaries from the Veracruz culture that extended from the Gulf to Mexico in the classical period (450-650). Also noteworthy is a series of ceramic dancers fitted with adjustable masks, tiny, but celebrated sculptures often published in reference works (estimated 20 000/25 000€).

The Veracruz civilization is also marvellously represented by a circular mirror-back in schist showing a standing priest holding an obsidian knife. The mirror is complete (estimated 120 000/150 000€). This section of the sale is concluded by a curious earthenware turkey, certainly the top of a large anthropomorphic statue: the animal symbolises the great civilisations of Mexico (estimated 80 000/100 000€). It comes from the Merrin Gallery, New York where it was acquired in the early 1970s.

The collection also houses an exceptional group of inscribed Maya vases dating from the Ancient Classic and Recent Classic periods. Jean-Michel Hoppan, a CNRS researcher, specialised in Maya script, has deciphered them and revealed their true significance (estimated from 20 000 to 150 000€).

A tripod vase with a stucco decorated cover surmounted by a male head in an exceptional state of conservation should be noted (estimated 120 000 to 150 000 €).

The sale ends with several fine stone sculptures from the Huastec and Aztec periods (1400-1500), estimated between 30 000 and 70 000€.   

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Auction House Staff Exodus - Tribal Art Winter 2016

In recent months Heinrich Schweizer and David Roche have departed from Sothebys New York. Schweitzer handled African and Oceanic art while Roche headed up the Native American sales. Roche's new assignment as director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix came as a surprise to many. Considering imminent departures of Indian expert Jim Haas from Bonhams and the future retirement of Doug Deihl within the next five years from Skinner's Ethnographic sales, one wonders what is happening in the public sector for tribal art sales in the United States. In my judgment Paris has just become more important which considering additional shipping and handling costs and the hassles of dealing with an increasingly complex customs gauntlet, this is not good news. In general both Sothebys and Christies have cut staff to minimize costs in a sluggish art market.

As sellers and buyers the challenges remain the same as they have in recent years. There are great opportunities on the buy side with more care required on the sell side.

1.NEW YORK The world-famous art auctioneer Sotheby’s suffered an $11.2m (£8.1m) loss in the fourth quarter of last year, warning on Friday of difficult months to come as the art market enters a slowdown.

The salesroom, which reported a profit of $74m over the same period a year ago, warned that commissions from auctions – its largest source of income – fell 8% to $284.4m in the final three months of the year. Total revenue dropped from $351m to $335m. Sotheby’s blamed a slowdown in fine arts sales in Asia.

The auctioneer has experienced executive suite defections and firings over the past two years, after activist investor Dan Loeb demanded the company return more cash to shareholders. It announced further staff defections on Friday.

Alex Rotter, global co-head of contemporary art, is leaving after 16 years. David Norman, vice-chairman of Sotheby’s Americas and co-chairman of impressionist and modern art worldwide, is to leave after 31 years.

Their exit marks a broad exodus of established art expertise as Sotheby’s attempts to compete with arch-rival Christie’s aggressive penetration of Asian markets. Anthony Grant, international senior specialist in contemporary art, left in January. Melanie Clore, chairman in Europe and co-chairman of impressionist and modern art worldwide, resigned a month later.

Personal News You Can Use Winter 2016

The Worst Day to Buy a Plane Ticket
How far in advance you need to buy a flight for the lowest price, according to new data
Prices for airline tickets can be volatile. What are the worst days and the best days to buy a plane ticket? Here are some details.

It may be tempting to dream of vacations and book some leisure travel as you head into the weekend. Resist. Airline tickets are generally priciest on Fridays.

Average prices for tickets bought on Friday are 13% higher than on Sunday, according to a new analysis of tickets sold world-wide over the past year. One reason: Leisure travelers tend to book discount trips more heavily on weekends, while business travelers typically pay higher fares booking reservations at the end of the work week.

Prices creep up on Fridays. Fare sales typically expire before Friday and many airlines launch their price hikes at the end of the week to see whether competitors all match over the weekend. Also, the inventory of available cheap seats sells down during the week before replenishment over the weekend or early in the week.

“I personally would shop the weekend and the beginning of the week and avoid Friday,” says Greg Schulze, Expedia ’s senior vice president of global tour and transport.

Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets booked through travel agencies, studied hundreds of millions of tickets purchased over the past year. The study found that airfares globally were 8% lower in October than the same month a year earlier, with a 6% decline for travel within North America and a 16% drop for flights within Europe.

Airlines, especially low-fare carriers, have been adding planes to their fleets and flights to their schedules, increasing competition and reducing fares to fill those added seats. Low oil prices have made it cheaper for airlines to try new flights, helping bring down prices.

The hunt for the lowest fare is a constant source of frustration for travelers. Sometimes they see prices drop as soon as they buy tickets and other times see prices climb when they wait hoping for a better deal. And while there’s good news in lower prices for travelers after several years of escalating airfare, the study reinforces the reality that there is no magic formula for getting the best price, other than trying to book early.

How early you buy is the biggest factor in whether you get a good price. The sweet spot is about two months before departure. The study found the lowest-priced economy tickets for a flight within North America were sold, on average, 57 days before departure.

For trips from North America to the Caribbean, the cheapest day to buy was 77 days in advance, on average. Trips within Europe showed their lowest price at 140 days before departure. And from North America to Europe, the lowest prices were available, on average, a whopping 176 days before takeoff. That means that right now would be best time to book early summer trips to Europe.

Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at fare-tracking firm Hopper, sees benefits in buying even earlier than 57 days on domestic trips. On many flights tracked by Hopper, the cheapest prices for domestic U.S. trips are about 80 days before departure, and international markets drop to their lowest price about 120 days before takeoff, or roughly four months before you fly.

But chasing the absolute cheapest price can be a trap in the airline pricing game. Airlines don’t start actively managing the price of seats on a particular flight until about three months before departure for domestic flights and five or six months for international trips, says Rick Seaney, chief executive for FareCompare, a search site for flights and hotels. That’s when price cutting typically begins.

“You can buy too early,” Mr. Seaney says.

Tuesday used to be considered the best day to buy because you were most likely to catch a sale. Airline pricing executives come to work Monday and look at sales over the weekend. If not enough seats sold, they put together sales and load discounted prices into systems Monday night, posting ads in Tuesday newspapers.

Two-thirds of all sales are still loaded into reservation computers early in the week starting Monday night, and typically last only a couple of days, Mr. Seaney says. But sales these days are full of restrictions—and often only good for travel on unpopular flights. Airlines can target specific markets with flash sales through social media, or just by tweaking prices on individual flights.

“Fare sales as they used to be are few and far between. Airlines are constantly making adjustments up and down,” Expedia’s Mr. Schulze says.

Knowing that many price-conscious travelers are shopping on weekends, airlines often post their lowest prices on Saturdays and Sundays, which are also days when business travelers aren’t likely to snag inexpensive fares.
Analysis by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corp. shows that airfares are 13% higher on Fridays than on Sundays. Analysis by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corp. shows that airfares are 13% higher on Fridays than on Sundays. Photo: EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

Airline pricing computers score each flight and measure it against the competition. If a flight has better times or connections, that means it likely will be more attractive to customers and can command higher prices. But if a flight is lagging behind historical buying patterns, computers may shrink the price to fill more seats.

That happens early. The days of last-minute discounts to fill up airplanes are long gone. Airlines are filling close to 90% of their seats. Last-minute fares are high for business travelers, not low for spur-of-the-moment leisure fliers. “It’s not like you can show up at the airport with your suitcase and get a ticket for half price,” Mr. Surry says. “The sad truth for consumers is there is no golden rule you can use to beat the airlines.”

The Expedia/ARC report, which includes data from some airlines on direct sales, as well as tickets purchased through online and traditional travel agencies, shows there is no single clear day to find the cheapest deal for all fights. In most regions, Expedia and ARC data show, cheapest tickets are sold on Sunday or Saturday. But that’s largely a function of higher-priced business travel bookings not being made over the weekend.

Expedia’s Mr. Schulze says, however, that when business travel is taken out of the mix and leisure tickets are analyzed alone, Expedia sees the same overall trend: The weekend tends to be cheaper.

Tuesday is still the least-expensive weekday, and Fridays average 3% higher prices than Tuesday for trips within North America. But the bottom line is that fares bounce around so much, each day may be different. When you see a good price, grab it.

“Deals are available all the time,” says Chuck Thackston, ARC’s general manager of data and analytics.

Write to Scott McCartney at

Endangered Species Winter 2016

SOUTH AFRICA On his ranch southwest of Johannesburg, John Hume chokes up when he talks about the first of his rhinos to be poached. “We tame our rhinos, we feed them, we want to manage them,” he says, fighting back tears. “I make it easy for the poachers to kill my rhinos.”

Mr. Hume, a 73-year-old retired developer of timeshare resorts, spends more than $200,000 a month protecting his rhinos with a veritable private army, some of whom buzz over his 16,000-acre spread near Klerksdorp, South Africa, by helicopter. Still, he has lost 13 rhinos to poachers this year—leaving him with 1,161 of the lumbering, endangered beasts.

Mr. Hume thinks that his herd would be safer if trade in the rhinos’ coveted horns was legalized. He is lobbying to overturn bans that have been in place locally since 2009 and internationally since 1977.
It is a controversial idea—and an urgent one. Nearly 4,000 rhinos have been slaughtered in the past eight years as demand has surged for their horns, particularly in Asia, where it is powdered for use in potions and medicines and often purchased as a status symbol.

The global rhino population has dwindled from 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to about 29,000 today. The surging trade in illicit horn has cut the population of the three remaining Asian species to just a few thousand, including about 40 Javan and less than 100 Sumatran rhinos. Just about 20,000 Southern White Rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos, which include three subspecies in Africa, survive. Four-fifths of the world’s remaining rhinos live in South Africa, and 4% of the global population are on Mr. Hume’s ranch.

Black-market rhino horn can fetch as much as $100,000 a kilogram in Vietnam and other Asian countries, where it is peddled as a cure for ailments ranging from headaches to cancer. Many conservationists say that a legal marketplace would only raise demand. They argue instead for publicity campaigns to debunk the myths that lead many in Asia to pour rhino-horn powder into useless pills.

Others warn that rhinos can’t wait for those beliefs to wither. “I do not think we have a significant amount of rhinos left to invest in education,” said Louise Joubert, founder of SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary, a rehabilitation center and reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo province. Rhinos “are on a ticking time bomb down to extinction.” Mr. Hume and many ranchers argue that legalizing the trade and flooding the market with sustainably harvested horn could sate demand, lower prices and cut poachers out of the equation.

Rhino horn is made of keratin, like human fingernails. It grows as much as 5 inches a year. Biologists say that as long as a stump of 2 to 3 inches remains, it can be trimmed, doing a rhino no more harm than a manicure. “There are no nerves in rhinos’ horns,” said Raoul du Toit, director of Zimbabwe’s Lowveld Rhino Trust. He said there is no evidence that the procedure affects rhinos’ breeding practices or leaves them more susceptible to predators. “Why would you hunt a rhino for seven, eight, nine, 10 kilos of horn when, in a lifetime, it can grow 70 kilos of horn?” Mr. Hume asked.

Animal-rights activists, conservationists and South Africa’s government are skeptical. Critics say that Mr. Hume and other large ranchers stand to profit if they can sell horn harvested from their herds.

“Where we differ is with your attitude towards the exploitation of an endangered species with the intention of making large profits,” Margot Stewart, founder of the nonprofit group Wild and Free South Africa, wrote in an open letter to Mr. Hume. She argues that rhinos are wild animals and should not be kept in paddocks like sheep or cows—and that it is unethical to farm and sell rhino horn since it has zero medicinal value. “Only two parties want this to continue: the rhino farmers and organized crime syndicates,” she added.

Mr. Hume petitioned South Africa’s High Court in Pretoria to lift the moratorium in September. A judgment is expected in the next few weeks. “I honestly believe the more horn we can sell to people who are using it, the less pressure there will be on my rhinos and Kruger Park’s rhinos,” Mr. Hume said, alluding to South Africa’s premier national park.
Goliath, a large male white rhino who has had his massive horn trimmed, on John Hume's ranch in September near Klerksdorp. Mr. Hume says his herd would be safer if trade in the rhinos’ coveted horns was legalized. ENLARGE
Goliath, a large male white rhino who has had his massive horn trimmed, on John Hume's ranch in September near Klerksdorp. Mr. Hume says his herd would be safer if trade in the rhinos’ coveted horns was legalized. Photo: Alexandra Wexler/The Wall Street Journal

The vast Kruger Park remains the epicenter of the rhino-poaching crisis, despite added K-9 units and night patrols. Poachers often slip into the park across South Africa’s unfenced border with Mozambique. They have killed 544 rhinos this year through August. Arrests are up 70% over the same period last year, and the park’s rangers regularly run into heavily armed poaching gangs.

“None of us here want a future where the only rhino we see will be on the back of a bank note or a postage stamp or in pictures in a library book,” said South African President Jacob Zuma Nov. 1 at an anti-poaching event near the park.

Mr. du Toit, the conservationist in Zimbabwe, warns that poverty and graft in the region are too widespread to trust that the rhino-horn market would be restricted to sustainably trimmed horns. Corruption “is our biggest problem,” he said, and it would “pervade the supply chains” of a legalized horn trade.

The sides argue about precedents. A one-off sale of elephant-ivory stockpiles from four southern African nations in 2008 only whetted appetites for tusks, and elephant poaching has since soared to all-time highs. But a sustained, legal tide of supply—not a brief flood—has worked for other species, like South America’s vicuña, a llama relative. Mr. Hume notes that vicuñas were once slaughtered for their softer-than-cashmere coats but are now farmed sustainably, back from the edge of extinction.

In 2008, the year before domestic trade in rhino horn was outlawed in South Africa, 83 rhinos were poached. By 2010, the slaughter had risen to 333, and it has been rising since. But Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, which funds and operates anti-poaching efforts, argues that the best strategy is to “just protect the heck out of” the rhinos.

Recently, Mr. Hume was staring out the window of his white pickup truck, winding through a herd of rhinos that seemed more like docile cows than wild beasts. He chided a bull named Goliath for ambling into the territory of another rhino called Champ. “That’s boys being boys,” Mr. Hume sighed.

With skyrocketing security costs, he fears that the savings he’s using to support his ranch may last less than three years. “When I run out of money, I can sit and say my prayers, do voodoo, whatever—but I guarantee you the poachers will have a field day,” Mr. Hume said. “I sell rhino horn, or all my rhino die.”

Write to Alexandra Wexler at

Tax Law Winter 2016

1. WASHINGTON DC The Senate Finance Committee is scrutinizing nearly a dozen private museums opened by individual collectors, questioning whether the tax-exempt status they enjoy provides sufficient public benefit to justify what amounts to a government subsidy. Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee’s Republican chairman, sent letters this month to small galleries like the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Conn., and Glenstone museum in Potomac, Md., as well as Eli and Edythe Broad’s new $140 million art museum in Los Angeles, asking for information about visiting hours, donations, trustees, valuations and art loans.

Republican committee staff members said the inquiry was part of a broader effort by Mr. Hatch to re-examine bedrock institutions, including museums and private universities, that have long enjoyed preferential tax treatment.

“Tax-exempt museums should focus on providing a public good and not the art of skirting around the tax code,” Mr. Hatch said in an email statement. “While more information is needed to ensure compliance with the tax code, one thing is clear: Under the law, these organizations have a duty to promote the public interest, not those of well-off benefactors, plain and simple.”
Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah sent letters of inquiry this month to several galleries.
Zach Gibson / The New York Times

A broad debate about the personal and corporate tax system has emerged yet again as an important element in the presidential campaign. But little attention has been paid to the longstanding charitable deductions for museums, nonprofit theaters and other institutions — an exemption that is zealously defended by both donors and recipients.

The Hatch letter noted that “charitable organizations have an important role in promoting good in our society,” but questioned whether “some private foundations are operating museums that offer minimal benefit to the public while enabling donors to reap substantial tax advantages.”

“Such an arrangement would be inconsistent with the letter and intent” of the law, it added.

The letters were sent after an article in The New York Times earlier this year that examined the proliferation of tax-exempt private museums created by wealthy art collectors, sometimes in their own backyards. Some of the galleries severely limit public access, closing their doors to outsiders for several months at a time, shunning signs and advertisements, and requiring visitors to make advance reservations.

As investors have poured money into the skyrocketing art market, financial consultants and tax experts have said that many wealthy individuals are looking to convert their personal collections into private foundations or museums as a way of reducing their tax bills.

Founders can deduct not only the full market value of the art they buy, but also the value of cash and stocks they donate. The cost of insuring, conserving, warehousing and other expenses associated with a masterwork’s upkeep are also tax-free.

Internal Revenue Service guidelines are vague when it comes to establishing the degree of public benefit that justifies an art institution’s tax-exempt status. But public access and adequate signage are both considered prerequisites, according to previous agency rulings. There are also strict restrictions on displaying the art in a donor’s own home.

Aaron W. Fobes, the spokesman for the finance committee, said the panel’s “concerns are confined to a small number of private foundations and are not something that is symptomatic of a larger problem in exempt organizations.”

Some tax experts have questioned whether some of the small, out-of-the-way museums that are on or close to a donor’s property — like the Brant study center (founded by the newsprint magnate Peter Brant) or Glenstone (created by Mitchell Rales) — meet I.R.S. guidelines.

Philippa Polskin, a spokeswoman for Glenstone, said in an email that the museum was “gathering information in response to the questions sent by Senator Hatch and looks forward to sharing information with the committee about their efforts to build Glenstone into a world-class museum.”

Since the end of September, she said, “with future reservations already received, Glenstone is tracking toward a 12-month attendance of around 25,000 visitors.” She added that the number of visitors is expected to increase four- or fivefold when a planned expansion is completed.

The Brant Foundation did not respond to requests for comment, but it had previously defended the art center’s charitable work and public service.

Other institutions that were sent a letter, like the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and the newly minted Broad museum, are on an altogether different scale, however.

The Rubells’ 45,000-square-foot contemporary art center, located in a former Drug Enforcement Administration warehouse in Miami, helped revitalize the surrounding Wynwood neighborhood when the family opened it in 1993. The center reports that tens of thousands of people visit the center every year.

Mr. Broad’s grand three-story museum, which opened in September, is one of the most ambitious ventures of its kind in recent decades. Mr. Broad, who has donated millions to other nearby cultural institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, has been active in transforming that stretch of downtown Los Angeles into a cultural hub. The Broad Foundation did not respond to requests for comment, and the Rubell Family Collection declined to comment.

Several well-established art institutions, like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Frick Collection in New York, the Phillips Collection in Washington and the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, grew out of a wealthy art collector’s private purchases.
PATRICIA COHEN November 29, 2015
Follow Patricia Cohen on Twitter: @PatcohenNYT
The New York Times Company

2. NEW YORK CITY As both art dealing and collecting become more professionalized and higher prices raise the stakes for all concerned, legal issues loom ever larger in the art world. In the months ahead, I expect to see this become apparent in calls for new regulations, increased client focus on tax compliance, and progressively more complex sales contracts.

Certainly the issue of oversight has been around for a long time. Auction houses face some regulation, but private sales remain largely unconstrained—a wild, wild West. The issue resurfaced this past winter following economist Nouriel Roubini’s mention of it at Davos. I wouldn’t expect to see legislative developments in the near future, but the discussion heightens awareness. Similarly, lawsuits such as the one brought by collector Dmitry Rybolovlev against dealer Yves Bouvier, with accusations of excessive commissions, drew attention to the opaqueness of art world transactions. Clients read the headlines and then ask about drawing up proper agreements that spell out all parties’ rights and obligations.

We are also hearing a lot more questions from clients about free ports and related ways to manage tax liability. As individual artworks become more expensive and more people look at art as an asset class, it makes sense that such tools attract more attention. Free ports do not serve a purpose for collectors who want the work on their walls, but for investors, the aim is to store the work between purchase and resale to avoid sales and use taxes. There have been other examples globally, and even some earlier ventures in Delaware, but Fritz Dietl’s new space there is really the first one created in the United States for the purpose as it is understood today. Delaware is one of only five states with no sales or use tax.

On another tax issue, New York State authorities are expected to continue auditing galleries. These investigations grew out of concerns that sales tax exemptions for works shipped out of state were being applied too liberally. So on the one hand, State authorities are worried about losing out on revenue, while on the other, galleries and collectors give thought to compliance, at the same time weighing strategies to decrease liability. These are not schemes, they are legal strategies. In light of today’s stratospheric prices, it becomes all the more important for our clients to know what course is open to them.

One of the more intriguing recent developments has been increased focus on a scientific approach to authentication. On the technological front there is the invention of tagging with electronic DNA. But that is just one response to a backlash against connoisseurship as the foundation for authenticating works. It’s a fallible technique, and with prices where they are, more buyers are saying they want something more than an expert saying he or she can identify the work of an artist. For some time there have been companies that base opinions on physical evidence such as paint samples. Once, such techniques were used only after a lawsuit had been filed. But now we are seeing collectors raise the issue of making such tests part of presale due diligence. With everyone aware of csi-style forensic science, it makes sense that its role in the art world is expanding.
The following essay is by Mari-Claudia Jimenez, Art Law Partner, Herrick, Feinstein LLP.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Museum Exhibitions Winter 2016

 This past week I had the opportunity to see this exhibition with a tour from curator,Dirk Van Tuerenhout and it was fascinating. I don't consider myself particularly religious and was, therefore, prepared to be polite. The story of Guadalupe is intriguing to say the least. It is well worth the visit and should not be missed if you are in Houston.

 HOUSTON - Houston Museum of Natural Science
La Virgen De Guadalupe, a limited engagement exhibition, retraces the history of the Empress of the Americas. Its storyline covers more than thirteen centuries, divided into five sections. 

We start in 8th century Spain and end in the 21st century Americas. In between is a long, complex and extremely interesting story of deep faith, conquest and conversion, a clash between two very different worlds and contemporary expressions of devotion to the Virgin.

The story starts in the Iberian Peninsula, at a time when Muslim forces have overrun most of the territory. Over the next eight centuries, Catholic kings ruling the northern edges of the Peninsula fight to reconquer these lost lands. During this epic struggle, in the early 14th century, a new empire rises in Central Mexico, that of the Mexica, better known to us as the Aztecs. In 1519, these two worlds meet and are forever changed.

According to deeply held beliefs, during the later years of Aztec history a humble individual by the name of Juan Diego was born. In the year 1531, he was the person to whom the Virgin of Guadalupe revealed herself. This meeting, and the subsequent decision to build a chapel on the spot where this event occurred, have had far-ranging effects on the history of this part of the world. Over the next three centuries, the Virgin of Guadalupe becomes ever more popular, gaining in adherents as well as influence. At the dawn of the modern age, with independence looming over the horizon for many Latin American countries, the Virgin’s role transcends that of pure religion and extends into the political realm. The exhibit closes with a display of contemporary devotions to the Virgin, and the story of the canonization of Juan Diego by Pope John Paul II. 

La Virgin De Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas opens Dec. 11, 2015 (the day before the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe), and runs through Sept. 5, 2016. For tickets or more information, visit or call (713) 639-4629.

2. NEW YORK — African art rarely thrives in the Western art museum. It hovers uncertainly between the beautiful or intriguing object and the ethnographic specimen. Exhibitions are relatively infrequent, so audiences have little opportunity to develop the right receptors, and base knowledge, to make sense of it.

In the early years of the last century, Alfred Stieglitz’s famed 291 gallery presented an exhibition that was typical of the condescension it elicited: “Statuary in Wood by Negro Savages” was, according to its curator, devoted to art from “the Land of Fright.”
Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic. View Archive

When African art was not trumpeted as primitive, it was radically decontextualized. One of the best early 20th-century American collections of African art was gathered in the museum created by Albert C. Barnes outside of Philadelphia, where curatorial whimsy placed it alongside early 20th-century modernist painting.

Even today, African art is still put to demeaning uses, as in the Smithsonian’s “Conversations” show, in which pieces from the museum’s magnificent African collection are put in trivial “dialogue” with American art from the collection of the recently arraigned Bill Cosby.

As a magnificent exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art draws to a close, however, it’s clear that not only can African art speak intelligently and viscerally within the Western art museum, it can destabilize the underpinnings of the museum itself. “Kongo: Power and Majesty” ends on Jan. 3, but will remain vivid for all who have seen it. The show’s success, as with most successful exhibitions, is based on two things: depth and honesty. It gives visitors enough material to engage the faculties of distinction and differentiation, and it confronts the curatorial challenge of its subject without flinching.
Figure of Christ. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Ernst Anspach, 1999. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

That challenge is felt in the first and last rooms of the exhibition, which begins with a limestone column placed near the mouth of the Congo River in 1483 by the crew of the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao, credited with “discovering” the Kongo region on the west coast of Africa.

The column’s survival is almost miraculous, but no less so than the artistry of several oliphants seen nearby. These carved ivory horns — made more for display than musical purposes — are deeply but delicately incised with geometric patterns, often spiraling in wide bands down the length of the tusk. They were prized by Renaissance collectors, who added them to the “wonders” of their Kunstkammern (the Renaissance forerunner of the modern museum).

At the end of the exhibition is a room of very different material, a stunning collection of 15 Mangaaka, or male power figures, with short legs, powerful arms, hands resolutely on the hips, and torsos and heads studded with nails, blades and other hardware.

These statues were collected by Europeans during the colonial age, sometimes as the spoils of armed conflict, often labeled as “war fetishes.”

The casual visitor may assume that these two species of material culture were made by different peoples or that some horrible decline in aesthetic values intervened between the age of the luxury objects made for European export in the 16th century and the 19th-century power figures, which seem to amplify ideas about the land of fright.

Perhaps it would have made more sense to make this two exhibitions, one about the initial encounter with European civilization, when the Christianized Kongo kingdom enjoyed relative equality and prestige with its Portuguese trading partners, and the other about the art of the 19th and 20th centuries, when Kongo had been effectively absorbed into the miserably exploited colony of Angola.

But the success of the show is its unflinching look at how African objects migrated through Western categories and institutions, at the depredations of the slave trade that corrupted every political and ethnic relationship in this region, and ultimately at the huge lacuna in our knowledge about the Kongo people, which is all the more distressing given that Kongo is one of the best documented kingdoms of Africa.

The result is a powerful visual and emotional demonstration of an old idea that is so painful, and incriminatory, that we would love to dispense with it: that the entire structure of Western thinking, political and economic hegemony made it impossible to see Africa. Westerners could discover it, lose it, repurpose it and exploit it; but they were never interested in making sense of it.

The oliphants, for example, entered Western collections as objects of purely aesthetic interest. They were precious and beautiful, and preserved alongside Western paintings and sculpture and curiosities from the animal and mineral world. As exhibition curator Alisa Lagamma argues in a catalogue essay: “There was seemingly no interest in the original significance or connection to Africa of these precious early Kongo creations, suggesting that the physical ownership of an artifact, rather than any narrative concerning its origins, was the point of its acquisition.”

That meant that as the power of pure wonder faded, and our classification system divided art and science, the natural from the human-made world, many of these early Kongo artifacts ended up in ethnographic museums, where they were wildly mislabeled. Was it from Africa (already a ridiculously large category) or Southeast Asia? What difference did it make?

By the early 20th century, there was renewed appetite for (if not genuine interest in) the art of Africa and Kongo, but the categories had changed. Collectors sought the primitive, the “pure expression of the emotion of a savage race,” as the 291 gallery curator described it. The male power figures, with their forceful, even threatening posture and the apparent violence with which they have been studded with metal, might seem to fit that bill.

Co-created by artisans who carved the wooden figures and priests who empowered them with spiritual force, they were not merely “war fetishes” as European observers believed. They were endowed with the power to record contracts, settle disputes, dispense justice and enforce what we think of today as the stability of civil society. The metal driven into them might signify a specific resolution of conflict or agreement between parties.

What seems to an outsider a mark of violence was in fact a response to violence, an enactment of civil healing in a society that had been reduced by colonial exploitation to nearly intolerable instability.

So by the end of the exhibition, it may seem as if the old dichotomy between the artistic object (the beautiful carved tusk) and the ethnographic object (the sacred power figure) has been reinforced.

In fact, the old dichotomy is now radically undermined, calling into question the definition of art itself. Is it the elegant object made for sale or presentation, exchanged among and preserved by elites? Or is it the object that has what we might call pragmatic spiritual power? Take those questions with you as you visit the Western galleries of the museum, and you will see everything with a liberating sense of confusion.
By Philip Kennicott Art and architecture critic December 30, 2015 Follow @PhilipKennicott