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The ongoing discussion - can we achieve clarity with terms such as authenticity, old, antique, vintage, ritually used....

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  • rschust
    Well I seem to have revived a historical and unresolved contretemps that began innocently enough with a query about a puzzling carving. My thanks to John, Lou,
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 4, 2013
    • 0 Attachment
      Well I seem to have revived a historical and unresolved contretemps that began innocently enough with a query about a puzzling carving. My thanks to John, Lou, Ed, Lee and Bob with apologies if I missed anyone else. It seems that there is acknowledgement of the problem of a link between commerce and authenticity in the African art trade. John, Ed and Bob are leaning towards me. Lou is explicitly not. Neither is Lee.
       
      My aim now is mainly to respond to Lou whose writing has the virtue of being explicit. I aim not to denigrate or belittle Lou. I don't know him - in fact I know none of you. I assume from his outlook that he may indeed be associated with a prestigious gallery and/or auction house that uses terms like "authenticity," "old"..etc to create a sub-field of commerce in African carvings that allows them to realize multi-thousands of dollars even for rather mediocre, beaten up and miniature carvings. He mounts a legitimate defense of houses like Sotheby's where the wealthy seek their African art there.
       
      What I will try to do here is not abandon the hope of clearing up some of the confusion surrounding the link between authenticity and legitimate commerce in African carvings. (John: "ah, yes, the authenticity discussion again") I want to show thethe use and misuse of these terms by questioning the axioms of the Sotheby model.
       
      And then I want to essentially agree with the kind of remedy offered by Bob of a two-tiered system that allows terms like "authentic" etc to co-exist at two distinctly different levels of commerce in the African arts - for the super rich (hereafter the "Sotheby's model) and for those like me and Bob who also seek authenticity, but by paying in the hundreds and not thousands of dollars. I will call this the "common collector" model.
       
      It's always good to begin the critique with real and true examples.. John's story is such ("Quick thought on authenticity," 4th August).
       
      Here in brief is mine. I saw a mask offered by a non-professional seller that tempted me even though my ignorance did not allow identification. It looked Bamana or Marka (or an amalgam). It could also have been a fake but I was willing to gamble because, if fake, it was a good one. Anyway it was attractive enough to hang in my study.
       
      I append a photo in the uploads of the Discussion group as Bamana Ntomo because that is what it is. I discovered this when reading about problems in the African Arts trade (article attached). This article included a brief section that showed a photo of "my mask" (but adorned with cowries), how it was used and how it was "authenticated:" A photo is appended to the uploaded photos site in the photo album RichSchust.
       
      Here is a brief summary of the information about Suaga's Ntomo mask:
      .
      From an item called "The Suaga Collection:".

      Tribe:

      Bamana

      Country:

      Mali

      Ritual:

      Age Grade

      Name:

      Ntomo

       

      Materials:

      Wood, nails, cowrie shells, abrucus seeds

       

      Provenance:

      Coll. Bakarijana Village, Segou Region, Mali by Andrew Turley 2007

       

      Comments:

      In discussions with the Deputy Director of the National Museum in Bamako, he indicated that he agreed with my opinion that this mask was genuine, had good age and showed significant signs of use. Based on wear to the mask, superstructure and the erosion to cowrie shells and abrus precatorius seeds, its age is estimated at circa 1950.

       

       

       

       

      Let's begin with terms. Suaga's mask was collected in 2007. Worse, "old" and "antique" are logically useless. I was born in 1940. Is that "old?" (I'll leave out the medical stuff.). Well I am regarded as old. I am retired on social security and a pension and have handicapped permits. People offer me seats on crowded transport. I be old by any criterion. 
       
      But I suspect that Lou has in mind 1840, not 1940.
       
      "Authenticity:" pretty authentic, according to all the accepted criteria and logic of what this term means and implies: provenance, ritual use, village where created....
       
      What should "authentic" then mean? Read Ed and John and others: created individually by a carver who incorporates the culture's style of carving. And perhaps but not necessarily used. 
       
      "Provenance:: definitely.
       
      What did I pay for it? $89.95. I note this not to brag about my "luck" or economic craftiness. But for the fact that Sotheby's wouldn't and their overhead allow going near a $90 carving with a 10 meter barge-pole no matter how deeply authentic.
       
      Nor I suspect would Lou or Lee or several who will read this. Unless they themselves paid the $90 and then offered it for sale at $5,000 - with the proof of use and provenance.
       
      So a priori restricting the use of terms like "authentic," "old," "antique," ?"used" cannot really justify anything fundamental about an African carving except the commercialization inherent in erecting a rarified world of super expensive for the Sotheby's model.
       
      They also want provenance to mean smething rather unsavory - an item collected long ago by a  missionary or expatriate colonial bought - or perhaps "plundered" - from some naive African with the offer of worthless trade beads, weapons or whatever cost the European little or nothing.
       
      Ah, "authentic" in the Sotheby's model becomes like the Elgin marbles - we know who, what, when and where long ago. So the Lous and Lees and Sothebys want us to turn African carvings into the Elgin marbles and justify demanding thousands or millions from people who buy African instead of Warhol or Van Gogh.
       
      As Lou noted in a condescending answer to my little comparison of the Dogon and Baule equestrian carvings: "not authentic, just like the offerings of sellers like Africa Direct and others whose crime is trying to care out a niche aimed at the common-collector model. For such sellers - "Old"- can be but not necessarily; possibly used; and almost definitely authentic, carved in traditional ways by legitimate and often talented carvers, Just as John described for the Akuaba carving and I did for the Bamana ntomo.
       
      What Lou and others are doling reminds me of the old joke: if we define an automobile by the traits of a Rolls Royce or a bi-turbo Porsche, then my Toyota V6 Camry is NOT an automobile. In our world, there is a stubborn, selfish and arrogant refusal to grant legitimacy and validation to that second tier of commerce in authentic and somewhat old African carvings for the less economically well endowed.
       
      *******
       
      So why not instead combine the expertise of vendors of authentic carvings to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy and create a shared society or guild of vendors and auctioneers who are granted a certificate of "Kashrut". - they are Kosher and legitimate - and certify that such vendors do their best to offer only authentic carvings that can be sold or auctioned for anything from two-figures to 6 or 7. Let such vendors  advertise their certicication
       
      And then add the creation a panel of varied experts who can be sent photos or the actual carvings and for $50 or $100 + shipping paid by the owner in order to be issued an opinion regarding age, use and authenticity.
       
      In closing, Lou's vehemence is understandable. I would guess that allowing authenticity and use to co-exist in the two-tiered model poses a commercial threat to the Sotheby's model - and implicitly the Lou and Lee models. But the association of authenticity with 5- and 6-figure prices is logically and factually indefensible. And I suspect Lou and Lee and Sotheby's know it.
       
      ***
      I will now try to upload the photos mentioned above.
       
      Richard


      Currently  in Israel:
       
      In Israel:
      Emeritus, Dept of Psychology
      University of Haifa
      Haifa 31905
      Tel: 077-7825306
      Cell: 050-7332323
       
      In the US:
      1742 Grant Ave
      East Meadow, NY 11554
      Tel.: 516-750-5335
      Cell: 646-894-4904
       
    • rschust
      Re-sending identical mail with an attached file showing a Suaga mask - see below ... From: rschust Date: Mon, Aug 5, 2013 at 12:33 AM
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 4, 2013
      Re-sending identical mail with an attached file showing a Suaga mask - see below

      ---------- Forwarded message ----------
      From: rschust <richschust@...>
      Date: Mon, Aug 5, 2013 at 12:33 AM
      Subject: The ongoing discussion - can we achieve clarity with terms such as authenticity, old, antique, vintage, ritually used....
      To: African Arts Group <African_Arts@yahoogroups.com>, African_Arts Moderator <African_Arts-owner@yahoogroups.com>


      Well I seem to have revived a historical and unresolved contretemps that began innocently enough with a query about a puzzling carving. My thanks to John, Lou, Ed, Lee and Bob with apologies if I missed anyone else. It seems that there is acknowledgement of the problem of a link between commerce and authenticity in the African art trade. John, Ed and Bob are leaning towards me. Lou is explicitly not. Neither is Lee.
       
      My aim now is mainly to respond to Lou whose writing has the virtue of being explicit. I aim not to denigrate or belittle Lou. I don't know him - in fact I know none of you. I assume from his outlook that he may indeed be associated with a prestigious gallery and/or auction house that uses terms like "authenticity," "old"..etc to create a sub-field of commerce in African carvings that allows them to realize multi-thousands of dollars even for rather mediocre, beaten up and miniature carvings. He mounts a legitimate defense of houses like Sotheby's where the wealthy seek their African art there.
       
      What I will try to do here is not abandon the hope of clearing up some of the confusion surrounding the link between authenticity and legitimate commerce in African carvings. (John: "ah, yes, the authenticity discussion again") I want to show thethe use and misuse of these terms by questioning the axioms of the Sotheby model.
       
      And then I want to essentially agree with the kind of remedy offered by Bob of a two-tiered system that allows terms like "authentic" etc to co-exist at two distinctly different levels of commerce in the African arts - for the super rich (hereafter the "Sotheby's model) and for those like me and Bob who also seek authenticity, but by paying in the hundreds and not thousands of dollars. I will call this the "common collector" model.
       
      It's always good to begin the critique with real and true examples.. John's story is such ("Quick thought on authenticity," 4th August).
       
      Here in brief is mine. I saw a mask offered by a non-professional seller that tempted me even though my ignorance did not allow identification. It looked Bamana or Marka (or an amalgam). It could also have been a fake but I was willing to gamble because, if fake, it was a good one. Anyway it was attractive enough to hang in my study.
       
      I append a photo in the uploads of the Discussion group as Bamana Ntomo because that is what it is. I discovered this when reading about problems in the African Arts trade (article attached). This article included a brief section that showed a photo of "my mask" (but adorned with cowries), how it was used and how it was "authenticated:" A photo is appended to the uploaded photos site in the photo album RichSchust.
       
      Here is a brief summary of the information about Suaga's Ntomo mask:
      .
      From an item called "The Suaga Collection:".

      Tribe:

      Bamana

      Country:

      Mali

      Ritual:

      Age Grade

      Name:

      Ntomo

       

      Materials:

      Wood, nails, cowrie shells, abrucus seeds

       

      Provenance:

      Coll. Bakarijana Village, Segou Region, Mali by Andrew Turley 2007

       

      Comments:

      In discussions with the Deputy Director of the National Museum in Bamako, he indicated that he agreed with my opinion that this mask was genuine, had good age and showed significant signs of use. Based on wear to the mask, superstructure and the erosion to cowrie shells and abrus precatorius seeds, its age is estimated at circa 1950.

       

       

       

       

      Let's begin with terms. Suaga's mask was collected in 2007. Worse, "old" and "antique" are logically useless. I was born in 1940. Is that "old?" (I'll leave out the medical stuff.). Well I am regarded as old. I am retired on social security and a pension and have handicapped permits. People offer me seats on crowded transport. I be old by any criterion. 
       
      But I suspect that Lou has in mind 1840, not 1940.
       
      "Authenticity:" pretty authentic, according to all the accepted criteria and logic of what this term means and implies: provenance, ritual use, village where created....
       
      What should "authentic" then mean? Read Ed and John and others: created individually by a carver who incorporates the culture's style of carving. And perhaps but not necessarily used. 
       
      "Provenance:: definitely.
       
      What did I pay for it? $89.95. I note this not to brag about my "luck" or economic craftiness. But for the fact that Sotheby's wouldn't and their overhead allow going near a $90 carving with a 10 meter barge-pole no matter how deeply authentic.
       
      Nor I suspect would Lou or Lee or several who will read this. Unless they themselves paid the $90 and then offered it for sale at $5,000 - with the proof of use and provenance.
       
      So a priori restricting the use of terms like "authentic," "old," "antique," ?"used" cannot really justify anything fundamental about an African carving except the commercialization inherent in erecting a rarified world of super expensive for the Sotheby's model.
       
      They also want provenance to mean smething rather unsavory - an item collected long ago by a  missionary or expatriate colonial bought - or perhaps "plundered" - from some naive African with the offer of worthless trade beads, weapons or whatever cost the European little or nothing.
       
      Ah, "authentic" in the Sotheby's model becomes like the Elgin marbles - we know who, what, when and where long ago. So the Lous and Lees and Sothebys want us to turn African carvings into the Elgin marbles and justify demanding thousands or millions from people who buy African instead of Warhol or Van Gogh.
       
      As Lou noted in a condescending answer to my little comparison of the Dogon and Baule equestrian carvings: "not authentic, just like the offerings of sellers like Africa Direct and others whose crime is trying to care out a niche aimed at the common-collector model. For such sellers - "Old"- can be but not necessarily; possibly used; and almost definitely authentic, carved in traditional ways by legitimate and often talented carvers, Just as John described for the Akuaba carving and I did for the Bamana ntomo.
       
      What Lou and others are doling reminds me of the old joke: if we define an automobile by the traits of a Rolls Royce or a bi-turbo Porsche, then my Toyota V6 Camry is NOT an automobile. In our world, there is a stubborn, selfish and arrogant refusal to grant legitimacy and validation to that second tier of commerce in authentic and somewhat old African carvings for the less economically well endowed.
       
      *******
       
      So why not instead combine the expertise of vendors of authentic carvings to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy and create a shared society or guild of vendors and auctioneers who are granted a certificate of "Kashrut". - they are Kosher and legitimate - and certify that such vendors do their best to offer only authentic carvings that can be sold or auctioned for anything from two-figures to 6 or 7. Let such vendors  advertise their certicication
       
      And then add the creation a panel of varied experts who can be sent photos or the actual carvings and for $50 or $100 + shipping paid by the owner in order to be issued an opinion regarding age, use and authenticity.
       
      In closing, Lou's vehemence is understandable. I would guess that allowing authenticity and use to co-exist in the two-tiered model poses a commercial threat to the Sotheby's model - and implicitly the Lou and Lee models. But the association of authenticity with 5- and 6-figure prices is logically and factually indefensible. And I suspect Lou and Lee and Sotheby's know it.
       
      ***
      I will now try to upload the photos mentioned above.
       
      Richard


      Currently  in Israel:
       
      In Israel:
      Emeritus, Dept of Psychology
      University of Haifa
      Haifa 31905
      Tel: 077-7825306
      Cell: 050-7332323
       
      In the US:
      1742 Grant Ave
      East Meadow, NY 11554
       



      --
      Currently  in Israel:
       
      In Israel:
      Emeritus, Dept of Psychology
      University of Haifa
      Haifa 31905
      Tel: 077-7825306
      Cell: 050-7332323
       
      In the US:
      1742 Grant Ave
      East Meadow, NY 11554
      Tel.: 516-750-5335
      Cell: 646-894-4904
       
    • Ed Jones
      Hi Richard,   Yes, my views concerning monetary price has a disparaging commercial when linking authentic / fake tritely value. I must say, value is
      Message 3 of 3 , Aug 4, 2013
      • 0 Attachment
        Hi Richard,
         
        Yes, my views concerning monetary price has a disparaging commercial when linking authentic / fake tritely value.  I must say, "value" is subjective and cannot be the "alpha" criterion used to link rarity, authentic and genuine relics and most of all, price.  This is certainly an elephant in the room if this is one's principle focus. 
         
        By the way: I happen to think occasionally, eBay presents nice objects.  It is certainly not all junk and trinkets.
         
        I did not believe most enthusiasts (certainly including myself) can plausibly determine all "real" masks or objects, if we were to put that way.  Picasso surly could not, but he was inspired by the abstract forms; curves, lines and symmetry) of African carvings... Although, he finally admitted with great trepidation that "black" African art was at the thrust of what inspired his paintings in the late 1930s or beginning in the 1940s if I am not incorrect about the years. 
         
        Ed
         
         
        From: rschust <richschust@...>
        To: African Arts Group <African_Arts@yahoogroups.com>; African_Arts Moderator <African_Arts-owner@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Sunday, August 4, 2013 2:33 PM
        Subject: [African_Arts] The ongoing discussion - can we achieve clarity with terms such as authenticity, old, antique, vintage, ritually used....
         
        Well I seem to have revived a historical and unresolved contretemps that began innocently enough with a query about a puzzling carving. My thanks to John, Lou, Ed, Lee and Bob with apologies if I missed anyone else. It seems that there is acknowledgement of the problem of a link between commerce and authenticity in the African art trade. John, Ed and Bob are leaning towards me. Lou is explicitly not. Neither is Lee.
         
        My aim now is mainly to respond to Lou whose writing has the virtue of being explicit. I aim not to denigrate or belittle Lou. I don't know him - in fact I know none of you. I assume from his outlook that he may indeed be associated with a prestigious gallery and/or auction house that uses terms like "authenticity," "old"..etc to create a sub-field of commerce in African carvings that allows them to realize multi-thousands of dollars even for rather mediocre, beaten up and miniature carvings. He mounts a legitimate defense of houses like Sotheby's where the wealthy seek their African art there.
         
        What I will try to do here is not abandon the hope of clearing up some of the confusion surrounding the link between authenticity and legitimate commerce in African carvings. (John: "ah, yes, the authenticity discussion again") I want to show thethe use and misuse of these terms by questioning the axioms of the Sotheby model.
         
        And then I want to essentially agree with the kind of remedy offered by Bob of a two-tiered system that allows terms like "authentic" etc to co-exist at two distinctly different levels of commerce in the African arts - for the super rich (hereafter the "Sotheby's model) and for those like me and Bob who also seek authenticity, but by paying in the hundreds and not thousands of dollars. I will call this the "common collector" model.
         
        It's always good to begin the critique with real and true examples.. John's story is such ("Quick thought on authenticity," 4th August).
         
        Here in brief is mine. I saw a mask offered by a non-professional seller that tempted me even though my ignorance did not allow identification. It looked Bamana or Marka (or an amalgam). It could also have been a fake but I was willing to gamble because, if fake, it was a good one. Anyway it was attractive enough to hang in my study.
         
        I append a photo in the uploads of the Discussion group as Bamana Ntomo because that is what it is. I discovered this when reading about problems in the African Arts trade (article attached). This article included a brief section that showed a photo of "my mask" (but adorned with cowries), how it was used and how it was "authenticated:" A photo is appended to the uploaded photos site in the photo album RichSchust.
         
        Here is a brief summary of the information about Suaga's Ntomo mask:
        .
        From an item called "The Suaga Collection:".
        Tribe:
        Bamana
        Country:
        Mali
        Ritual:
        Age Grade
        Name:
        Ntomo
         
        Materials:
        Wood, nails, cowrie shells, abrucus seeds
         
        Provenance:
        Coll. Bakarijana Village, Segou Region, Mali by Andrew Turley 2007
         
        Comments:
        In discussions with the Deputy Director of the National Museum in Bamako, he indicated that he agreed with my opinion that this mask was genuine, had good age and showed significant signs of use. Based on wear to the mask, superstructure and the erosion to cowrie shells and abrus precatorius seeds, its age is estimated at circa 1950.
         
         
         
         
        Let's begin with terms. Suaga's mask was collected in 2007. Worse, "old" and "antique" are logically useless. I was born in 1940. Is that "old?" (I'll leave out the medical stuff.). Well I am regarded as old. I am retired on social security and a pension and have handicapped permits. People offer me seats on crowded transport. I be old by any criterion. 
         
        But I suspect that Lou has in mind 1840, not 1940.
         
        "Authenticity:" pretty authentic, according to all the accepted criteria and logic of what this term means and implies: provenance, ritual use, village where created....
         
        What should "authentic" then mean? Read Ed and John and others: created individually by a carver who incorporates the culture's style of carving. And perhaps but not necessarily used. 
         
        "Provenance:: definitely.
         
        What did I pay for it? $89.95. I note this not to brag about my "luck" or economic craftiness. But for the fact that Sotheby's wouldn't and their overhead allow going near a $90 carving with a 10 meter barge-pole no matter how deeply authentic.
         
        Nor I suspect would Lou or Lee or several who will read this. Unless they themselves paid the $90 and then offered it for sale at $5,000 - with the proof of use and provenance.
         
        So a priori restricting the use of terms like "authentic," "old," "antique," ?"used" cannot really justify anything fundamental about an African carving except the commercialization inherent in erecting a rarified world of super expensive for the Sotheby's model.
         
        They also want provenance to mean smething rather unsavory - an item collected long ago by a  missionary or expatriate colonial bought - or perhaps "plundered" - from some naive African with the offer of worthless trade beads, weapons or whatever cost the European little or nothing.
         
        Ah, "authentic" in the Sotheby's model becomes like the Elgin marbles - we know who, what, when and where long ago. So the Lous and Lees and Sothebys want us to turn African carvings into the Elgin marbles and justify demanding thousands or millions from people who buy African instead of Warhol or Van Gogh.
         
        As Lou noted in a condescending answer to my little comparison of the Dogon and Baule equestrian carvings: "not authentic, just like the offerings of sellers like Africa Direct and others whose crime is trying to care out a niche aimed at the common-collector model. For such sellers - "Old"- can be but not necessarily; possibly used; and almost definitely authentic, carved in traditional ways by legitimate and often talented carvers, Just as John described for the Akuaba carving and I did for the Bamana ntomo.
         
        What Lou and others are doling reminds me of the old joke: if we define an automobile by the traits of a Rolls Royce or a bi-turbo Porsche, then my Toyota V6 Camry is NOT an automobile. In our world, there is a stubborn, selfish and arrogant refusal to grant legitimacy and validation to that second tier of commerce in authentic and somewhat old African carvings for the less economically well endowed.
         
        *******
         
        So why not instead combine the expertise of vendors of authentic carvings to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy and create a shared society or guild of vendors and auctioneers who are granted a certificate of "Kashrut". - they are Kosher and legitimate - and certify that such vendors do their best to offer only authentic carvings that can be sold or auctioned for anything from two-figures to 6 or 7. Let such vendors  advertise their certicication
         
        And then add the creation a panel of varied experts who can be sent photos or the actual carvings and for $50 or $100 + shipping paid by the owner in order to be issued an opinion regarding age, use and authenticity.
         
        In closing, Lou's vehemence is understandable. I would guess that allowing authenticity and use to co-exist in the two-tiered model poses a commercial threat to the Sotheby's model - and implicitly the Lou and Lee models. But the association of authenticity with 5- and 6-figure prices is logically and factually indefensible. And I suspect Lou and Lee and Sotheby's know it.
         
        ***
        I will now try to upload the photos mentioned above.
         
        Richard
        Currently  in Israel:
         
        In Israel:
        Emeritus, Dept of Psychology
        University of Haifa
        Haifa 31905
        Tel: 077-7825306
        Cell: 050-7332323
         
        In the US:
        1742 Grant Ave
        East Meadow, NY 11554
        Tel.: 516-750-5335
        Cell: 646-894-4904
         
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