Provenance Puffery at upcoming Pre-Columbian art auction
Nearly every one of the 148 items in the February 1, 2013, Pre-Columbian art auction by Antiquities-Saleroom has no dated provenance despite a press release that proclaims: “Provenance and pedigree combine to form a compelling reason to bid in Antiquities Saleroom’s Feb. 1 sale of premier Pre-Columbian art.”
In the entire sale, only six works have a dated provenance, of which four are pre-1970.
Nevertheless, the press release later notes: “Most pieces in the auction boast provenance from distinguished sources, including Sotheby’s, Christie’s, the Denver Art Museum and even Andy Warhol, who reportedly had a discerning eye for antiquities.”
Yet, “most pieces in the auction boast” no dated provenance – more than 95%.
The online catalogue is thick with assurances: “Authenticity Guaranteed” “Authenticity Guaranteed!” and “Authenticity Unconditionally Guaranteed!” (it’s unclear if this means there’s a hierarchy in authenticity from no exclamation point to exclamation point and finally “unconditionally” with an exclamation point – most items in the sale carry the basic level “Authenticity Guaranteed”).
Moreover, the section labeled “provenance” is occasionally reserved for some amusing editorializing:
Lot 2: Pre-Coumbian, Mochica Culture , North Coast Peru, ca. 100-400 CE. Portrait style face mask.Provenance: Ex-Robert Sonin Private Collection (most famous gold authenticator in US!).
Lot 23: Pre-Columbian, Sican – Chimu Culture , North Coast Peru, ca. 800-1000 CE. Important pair of large gold Royal Ear Spools. Provenance: Ex-Fred Leighton Collection, New York City, NY (famous Madison Ave jeweler to the stars).
Lot 88D: Pre-Columbian, Jalisco, West Mexico, Ca 200 BCE – 200 CE. Fine, thin-walled “squeezed” terracotta vessel. PROVENANCE Ex-prominent Los Angeles, CA Collection, ex-Proctor Stafford Collection. Stafford’s collection was the start of The Los Angeles Museum of Art’s (LACMA) Pre-Columbian department. His collection was considered as one of the biggest and best among collectors worldwide. In fact, his pieces were so in demand LACMA loaned them out to other Museums nationwide!
This whole thing, with it’s incomplete provenances and amusing misspellings (including this in Lot 1: “Provenance: Ex-private Los Angels, (sic) CA collection”), would be laughable except for one major issue - “most pieces in the auction boast” no dated provenance – more than 95%!
And that’s worthy of an exclamation point.