Showing posts with label Guennol Stargazer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guennol Stargazer. Show all posts

January 7, 2018

More on the Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's whose private collection now faces further seizures


As mentioned previously in ARCA blog posts, Michael Steinhardt has a longstanding record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record for making prudent, informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his $200 million private art collection continues to raise eyebrows, and in Friday's case secure New York seizure warrants. 

As once-master of the hedge fund universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth estimated at $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, as well as almost thirty years of collecting experience, he should be aware of the ethics of acquisition and the problems of acquiring objects through questionable dealers or with insufficient or dubious provenance.

Steinhardt is a member of Christie’s advisory board.  He also has a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All this to say that he should be sufficiently well informed about the ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection.   When not sufficiently informed, his position of affluence and philanthropic influence affords him the ability to reach out to knowledgable art world connections, who could advise him of the regulatory structures in place and the moral economy of purchasing and collecting illicit antiquities should he have any doubts.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos again initiated custody of seven antiquities, prosecutors state were looted from the countries of Greece and Italy.

Purchased in the last twelve years, the ten objects seized in last week's raid are listed as:

A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.
Period: approximately 420 BCE.
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006.

B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009.

C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011.

D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide.
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009.

E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.

F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.

G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide.
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide.
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

I) Corinthian BUll’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”).
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide.
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”).
Period: unknown
Measurement: 3.6 inches tall by 9.4 wide.
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

Some of Steinhardt's previous risky antiquities gambles:  


2017
Sidon Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) 
and 
a 6th century marble torso of a calf bearer

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) and
a 6th century BCE marble torso of a calf bearer.

Just last month the US repatriated two Eshamun Sculptures seized from Steinhardt's private collection.  Both pieces found their way onto the international antiquities black market after being stolen during Lebanon's tumultuous civil war.  Before their theft, both antiquities had been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in 1967 near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

In the summer of 2017 Manhattan prosecutors seized the 2,300-year-old marble bull's head while it was on loan from Steinhardt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Prosecutors and forensic art crime analysts also tied the bull's head to a second Steinhardt purchase, also through Lynda and William Beierwaltes.

The Beierwaltes sold the Sidon Bull's head and the Lamb Carrier torso to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later of whom loaned the bull's head antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the marble head was subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked the Beierwaltes to retake possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase.

The Beierwaltes in turn relinquished all ownership claims when the illicit provenance of the objects was solidly made clear.

NOTE: The Beierwaltes were long-term clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides at the time of these purchases.

2017
An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press at that time that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted.

During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase, shortly after the case began being discussed in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted, Steinhardt would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

Christie's and Steinhardt issued a motion to quash Turkey's lawsuit.  While the case has not been resolved,  ultimately Turkey's fight for repatriation may hinge on two critical points: whether the country can conclusively show that the piece in question was discovered in Turkey, and whether the nation laid claim to the artifact in a timely fashion, given the length of time Steinhardt had the object in his collection.

2014
A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the Turriga Mother Goddess figure had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction.  Its current status has not be made public.

2011
United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment


April 20, 2011 an incoming parcel was detained in Newark, New Jersey by US Customs and Border Protection authorities.  Inside the package, shipped via the Swiss firm Via Mat Artcare AG, was a fresco fragment which appeared to be a cusp or pediment of an ancient painted tomb from the Necropolis of Andriuolo at Paestum. The shipper was listed as Andrew Baker of Vadus, Lichtenstein.   The consignee was Michael Steinhardt.

Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

2007 
(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave




In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who reportedly is a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world, many of which have no verifiable provenance.  After the purchase, Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as an extended loan. 

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus. Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale clue that the stele had likely been looted shortly after its extraction, since its base was missing.  Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom edge of Steinhardt's stele.  

These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples from the find site proved conclusively that the fragments were a match completing missing pieces of the stele. 

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving on the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.

1995
A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 9, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling, only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case, basing their decision on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the object's import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts that his error in purchase could be chalked up to naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt even stipulated that"if the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were each fully aware of the potentiality for illegality in the market, possibly with this object specifically.

Each of the aforementioned examples outlined above highlight questionable pedigrees in relation to previous high risk acquisitions made by Steinhardt in relation to his antiquities collection.  Several purchases in fact, overlap with antiquities dealers and middlemen with well known histories of dealing in illicit antiquities.  Each of these purchases demonstrate how little, if any, due diligence was conducted in providing a reasonable assurance that the objects being acquired were not, within the legal statutes of the time, illegally exported from their country of origin.



August 31, 2017

Updates on Turkey’s lawsuit over the multimillion-dollar, 5,000-year-old antiquity known as the Guennol Stargazer.


On August 28, 2017 attorneys for Michael Steinhardt and Christie's filed a lengthy, contentious Motion to Dismiss in the US District Court (SD/NY) related to CIV. ACT. NO. 17-cv-3086 (AJN), Turkey’s lawsuit over the multimillion-dollar, 5,000-year-old antiquity known as the Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York
The "motion to dismiss" in this case seeks a court order to dismiss the plaintiff's claim on the statutory grounds that such a claim was untimely brought.

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As a clear title is not possible in the case of the Guennol Stargazer, it will be up to Steinhardt and Christie's attorney to make a case on the laches defense, where it is clear that the plaintiff, in this case Turkey, unreasonably delayed in initiating an action and a defendant(s) are unfairly prejudiced by the delay.

The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest, the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the Stargazer is generally considered in the context of laches under New York law, it has long been the law of this state that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay making demand upon the person in possession of that property.

Attorneys for the defendants believe that the repatriation lawsuit must fail as there is evidence that Turkey knew about the Stargazer’s location for longer than three years before it sued, providing the court with a graphic charting that shows when the object first became publicized, implying Turkey's claim, twenty years after its first public announcement, is unreasonable.

The auction home points out that given that the idol’s arrival in the US, it has been referenced on numerous occasions  in museum catalogues and educational publications. 

August 23, 2017

Hedge Hogs and the Art of Wealth: The Curious Background of Michael Steinhardt


Michael Steinhardt has a long standing record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record: for making careful, sound, and informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his purported $200 million private collection of art, has been anything but stellar. 

As Master of the Hedge Fund Universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth of $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, and almost thirty years of collecting experience, he's also a member of Christie’s advisory board.  Tight with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he has had a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the museum. All that to say Steinhardt should be sufficiently well informed about the social and ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection. 

So why then, with access to so many of the art world's elite, has he chosen to overlook the importance of provenience (country of origin) and provenance (history of ownership) of the objects he fancied BEFORE allowing them to enter or exit his collection and comparing that information within the context of the US and international legal frameworks and abiding accordingly?

I guess traders love to gamble (more on that later) a fortune on their compulsions.

Some of Steinhardt's costly gambles:  

A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 09, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the objects import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts as to his naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt's even stipulated that if "the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were aware of the potential for illegality in the market, and possibly with this object specifically. 

(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave


In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who is reportedly a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities, many of which were unprovenanced.  After the purchase Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on an extended loan.

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus.  Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale signature that the stele had likely been looted upon its extraction, since its base was missing. 

Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom of Steinhardt's stele.  These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute's "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples at the find site proved that the fragments were a perfect match, completing missing pieces of the stele.  

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving at the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were later found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.  

United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment



Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the object had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery*, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27th the object was pulled from the Christie's auction for further review. Its current status has not be made known publically. 

An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer
Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary 60-day hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted. During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase shortly after to case broke in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery* in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted he would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

A Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE)

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE),
 (image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Earlier this month Manhattan prosecutors took custody of a 2,300-year-old marble bull's head, that was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art over suspicions that the antiquity had been pillaged. 

The marble head of a bull was purportedly purchased by Lynda and William Beierwaltes in 1996 for more than US$1 million. The Beierwaltes in turn sold the statue on to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later loaned the antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the object might be subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked that the Beierwaltes take possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase. 

The Beierwaltes have stated they purchased the object through an unnamed London art dealer. NOTE: The Beierwaltes were clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.

Six examples of high stakes "risks" overlapping with names of antiquities dealers many of whom those who analyse art crimes will already recognize.  

Yearning for Legitimacy or Repeating the Sins of the Father?

Steinhardt says the inherent risk in antiquities collecting doesn’t intimidate him. “It is a little bit dangerous, but that is what makes it exciting,” ....“But life is filled with risks, isn’t it?”

Understandably, leading a life on Wall Street makes you look at risk differently than the average person, and hedge fund overlords thrive on tightrope walking high-risk investment tactics in order to bring in lucrative returns.  In a world designed to aggressively accumulate wealth, it's not surprising that Michael Steinhardt approached his art acquisitions apparently enjoying the adrenalin-filled rush from the risk-taking he took.  

Yet with so many examples of getting it wrong; electing to overlook the provenance of the objects he collected in favor of the buy, working with dealers already known to raised eyebrows or prosecutions for undocumented artifacts, and irregular import documentation, Steinhardt's maneuvers shouldn't be interpreted as simple novice mistakes made by a collector with more money than Midas. Despite that, Steinhardt has profited more than he has been held in account for, which shows, unfortunately, that the odds remain remarkably in his favor, despite the alleged illicit purchases. 

Risk vs. Payoff: Lessons from Childhood

But before the legendary Wall Street money manager stepped into the collector's ring, Steinhardt was brought up in working-class Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  He is the son of the late Sol Frank Steinhardt, a reputed gambler and jewelry fence, who was a  lieutenant of the prohibition era crime boss Meyer Lansky.  Lansky was one of the most notorious of the Jewish crime bosses and a valuable money-maker for Joe Masseria's organization which made much of their income through extortion and is reputed to have been one of the most violent gangs of the era.

A gambler, "Red" Steinhardt, as Sol was also sometimes called, partnered with Lansky in Florida and Havana on gambling rackets that helped finance the National Crime Syndicate, alongside Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo, a New York mobster and a high-ranking Capo in the Genovese crime family. 

Before long, Sol Steinhardt's dealings as a farbrekher got him arrested, and in 1958 he was sentenced to 5-10 years on each of two counts for his fencing escapades.   Sol served out his sentence at Sing-Sing prison and Dannemora, the maximum security facility along the Canadian border.  According to Michael Steinhardt's autobiography, Steinhardt Sr. paid for his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, – most likely with ill-gotten gains.

Antiquities and Risk 

In 2005 Linda Sandler interviewed Michael Steinhardt on antiquities and risk, after his lost his appeal on the gold phiale.  During the interview he said:


I guess some collectors aren't candidates for sainthood either. 

The moral question is this: Suppose you can legally gain the reward and stick other people with the risk. It is easy enough for me to tell you not to do it. But will it change your action? 

By: Lynda Albertson
----------------------------------------------
* The Merrin Gallery was started by Edward Merrin, now run by his son, Samuel Merrin and Moshe Bronstein, appears in the business records of Sicilian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, who was charged with receiving and trafficking in looted antiquities.



April 29, 2017

Auction Alert: Christie's New York and the Guennol Stargazer

Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism,  Nabi Avcı 
Jussi Pylkkänen, global president of the auction house Christie's has indicated that at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, his firm will apply precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old female sculptor the "Guennol Stargazer."  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary 60-day hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted. During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD is confirmed but not collected. 

As spoken about in Dr. Sam Hardy's blog, the Guennol Stargazer is a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  The object first kicked up a fuss when Özgen Acar wrote of his concerns about the object's origins in Hurriyet Daily News.


An investigative journalist, Acar has crusaded for the return of Turkey's cultural patrimony for decades.  He is probably most famous for his dogged quest for the repatriation of the Metropolitan Museum's Karun Treasure, alternatively known as the Lydian Hoard, a name given to 363 Lydian artifacts that once belonged to a courtier of King Croesus of Lydia dating back to the 7th century B.C.E., originating from the Uşak Province in western Turkey.  In the case of the Guennol Stargazer, Acar openly questions the licit or illicit origin of the idol and its legitimacy in the New York auction house's April sale, in light of stringent Turkish antiquity laws.

This 60 day status will allow the Turkish government the opportunity to put forward evidence to convince the consignor to voluntarily forfeit the ancient idol, or if necessary, facilitate a court order of restitution.

Not a great start to Christie's Classic Week

In advance of the auction, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism,  Nabi Avcı learned of the upcoming sale of the Anatolian Kilia sculpture and contacted the country's cultural representatives through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Turkish embassy in Washington DC and the country's New York consulate. The Turkish authorities wanted to ensure that any potential buyer was completely aware that the idol was likely looted from Turkey. 

In a battle for hearts and minds - whose outcome will affect ancient art connoisseurs worldwide, the ministry also took out a full-page advertisement depicting the idol in the New York Times discouraging the collecting community from purchasing items that irretrievably damage a tangible link to the past.


In that open letter, pictured above, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey stated: 

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey extends its appreciation to the institutions and individuals that have helped to repatriate lost artefacts to the Anatolian origins.  

We thank the Dallas Museum of Art for returning the 194 A.D. “Orpheus Mosaic” to promote an international cultural exchange of art and ideas in 2012.  

We thank the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston which in 2011 returned part of the 1,800-year-old sculpture “Weary Herakles” that was excavated from the Turkish site of Perge. 

And we thank all the private collectors, auction houses and universities for returning 4272 pieces of cultural heritage, including marble pieces, ancient coins, marble inscriptions, amphoras, statues, and a Roma-era bronze horse harness piece.  

The good faith shown in each instance is an example of how countries and cultural communities can work together to preserve the archaeological record. 

The trade and sale of cultural assets are governed by international conventions and domestic legislations, like UNESCO’s global “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export,and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” in 1970, as well as Turkey’s national Asar-1 Atika Regulation of 1884 that prohibits the export of any newly-found or yet-unearthed artwork.  

In the spirit of cultural cooperation, we embrace continued collaboration with the arts community to discover the archaeological context of such historic works, and have good faith that any current or future custodians of Anatolian relics will likewise work with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism to return such pieces to their ancestral homes. 

The Business of Ancient Art for the Modern Collector

Christie's biannual auctions in London and New York offer some of the world's finest ancient art, but as the stakes for the art market go higher with each sales cycle, one has to question why auction houses prefer the potential customer embarrassment of the "identified as illicit" by an academic, country or journalist approach rather than simply conducting more intensive research into an ancient object's background before accepting a piece for an upcoming auction.

Bidding for bidders and it's about the money.

With plenty of money earmarked for Christie's April 28, 2017 ancient art sale coming from the best name purchasers, it's not a mystery why auction houses and antiquities dealers spend inadequate time worrying about a smudge-free pedigree when sourcing eye-poppingly priced antiquities for collectors. 


When an antiquities collector is willing to fork out $14 million for a purchase, you follow them around like a puppy, catering to their desires because you know in the end the auction house is going to make some decent money out of the sale. To achieve those "record prices" specialists spend significantly more time getting to know their collectors, listening to what they are interested in buying and what they already own, than they do researching where an ancient object came from and whose clean or dirty hands it passed through before arriving to its current consignor.

In the high-stakes art world with high commissions at stake, auction houses focus on wooing and wowing their customers in advance of potential purchases, not pointing out the holes in their consigned object's collection history. The market's focus is on the next bang of the auctioneer's gavel.  It's not on highlighting the murky backwaters an object may have passed through on its way to the auction block.

An auction house's competitive advantage in the marketplace rests as much on their knowledge of their big ticket buyers and sellers as it does on knowing where to source the objects these collectors want.  When someone is willing to offer $14 million for tiny object, an auction house or antiquities dealer will bend over backwards to get one for them.  

Given all of that, we shouldn’t wonder that the auction houses and antiquities dealers behave the way they do.  The bigger question haunting the ancient art market is how do we change the paradigm of "I don't care where it came from, it's pretty and I want it" to "I want something pretty, but I absolutely do care" and I won't buy anything without an ironclad well-documented provenance.

We do it by changing the minds of the collector. 

Collecting ancient art can be an extension of a personal passion, a status symbol or a piece of cultural currency but it also serves as a defacto calling card for the current-day purchaser's own collecting ethics. Deep-pocketed collectors can and should demand that their source dealer or auction house examine and not hide the provenance of the trophy works they are interested in acquiring.  They should also not discount the unacceptable buying and selling habits of the fading old guard of the art market.

If buyers behave conscientiously, the market will be forced to change its practices to keep up with their connoisseur clientele's ethically motivated demands. If only because it is the auction house’s job to know and to cultivate the sale of objects which their customers crave. That demand is what pushes the selling price past the guarantee.

If the antiquities art market really wants to clean itself up, it may be forced to accept in the not too distant future, that the priciest bombshells from the final “hammer price” tabulations may not simply be the rarest and most compelling, historically significant work of art, but also and equally importantly the one that hasn’t funded a war, or destroyed the archaeological record in a source country.

By:  Lynda Albertson